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KSR’s DOs and DON’Ts for hosting a successful Derby party


While many of you are putting the finishing touches on your Derby hats for a day at Churchill on Saturday, the rest of us are getting ready to attend a Derby party, and likely shaking our fists at the weather forecast. Since settling in Nashville in 2006, I’ve hosted a Derby party each year, eager to educate our southern neighbors to the event’s traditions and generally make them feel inferior to Kentuckians. From years of chastising people about not wearing hats and worrying about rain, here are some DOs and DON’Ts for hosting a successful Derby party:

DO plan for rain — Let’s face it: the forecast for Saturday sucks, at least in Nashville. Even if you’re only supposed to get “isolated showers” in your area, prepare for rain. Put up some tailgating tents and put any outdoor cushions/furniture under cover until just before your party starts to be safe. If it’s a wash out like it’s supposed to be here, have it inside and make the best of it. It wouldn’t be the Derby without the threat of rain, so just deal with it.

DO make a signature drink — Five years ago, I made “bourbonade” as an alternative to mint juleps for my Derby guests. After my guests tasted it, they forgot all about the juleps. Since then, it’s become a Thompson party staple, and was even the signature cocktail at our wedding. Here’s the recipe so you can make your own:

Mrs. T’s Bourbonade

2 cups ice tea (unsweetened)
1/2 cup sugar or Splenda
1 12 oz can frozen lemonade
1 12 oz can frozen limeade
1 750 ml bottle of bourbon
7 cups water

Mix all ingredients and chill. Makes one gallon

DO offer mint juleps — Mint juleps are both an acquired and required taste. I realize that’s kind of hard to believe for Kentuckians, to whom the bourbon drink is practically a rite of passage, but it’s not for everyone. While any Derby party should have at least the Maker’s Mark Mint Julep mix for its guests, it is best to provide an alternative for those who can’t handle it. Bourbonade FTW.

DON’T leave your designated drivers and sober pals hanging — Make sure to have some non-alcoholic beverages as well. Go beyond the standard two-liters of soda with lemonade, iced tea, or sparkling water.

DO pace yourself if you’re hosting — Look, I’ve been there. You’re hosting a party, which means you’re setting up all day, cooking, cleaning, polishing silver julep cups, etc. By the time the party rolls around, you don’t just want one drink, you want all the drinks. But, being a drunk host has its pitfalls…all stupid decisions become rational and in the morning, you’ve got a mountain of cleanup to go with your hangover. Pace yourself throughout the night and you’ll be happier the next day for it. Or don’t. This is the one tip I usually ignore anyways.

DON’T make a ton of food — After years of hosting parties, I’ve learned that it’s wise to not make a ton of snacks yourself, because most people bring their own. We are huge supporters of the potluck theory of partying, which not only takes the burden off the host, but lets people show off their favorite foods. One year, I slaved over Derby pie, country ham and biscuits, deviled eggs, etc. only to be faced with a giant table full of leftovers the next day. If you’re encouraging your friends to bring a side dish, keep it simple with a few snacks, like chips and dip or pigs in a blanket. You’ll thank yourself later.

DO have at least one Derby pie — Derby pie is sinfully delicious. If you don’t have a family recipe, here’s a good one. Your guests will thank you for it.

DON’T forget extra TP — You know what you can never have enough of during a party? Toilet paper.

DO encourage your guests to wear hats — It’s not a Derby party without some great hats and a best hat contest. Provide some cheap, silly hats for your guests who don’t wear one. Liquor Barn usually has some cheap plastic jockey hats for cheap.

DON’T dress like a slacker — The Derby comes around once a year. Put down the denim and pick up the seersucker. Are you a guy who’s been thinking of trying out a new pastel button-down? I can think of no better occasion. Humor your significant other by letting her think you care…she’ll thank you for it later.

DO have a coloring contest — One of my friends’ favorite parts about our Derby parties is the annual coloring contest. And yes, we are all grown adults (for the most part), but who doesn’t love to color? Make it interesting by offering a small prize for the winner (chocolate or a small pint of bourbon usually does the trick). Obviously, if kids are in attendance, they’ll love it too.

DO have a big betting board — Make a large betting board with each horse’s name, post position, trainer, jockey, owner, silks and odds on it. Have guests pay a dollar per horse they want to bet on and write their initials by their choice. Pick someone to be “the bank” and have them collect the money, which will be divvied up at the end. Give that extra KSR kick with a section for each task in “The Ryan Lemond Derby.”

DON’T be that annoying person who pretends to know everything about horse racing — Don’t get me wrong: horse racing knowledge is good. As Kentuckians, it is our duty to educate the masses on how to bet, Derby traditions, and the beauty of the sport. But, you don’t want to be that obnoxious person lecturing people about bloodlines, training runs, and trainers. No one likes a know-it-all.

DO sing “My Old Kentucky Home” proudly — You didn’t learn the lyrics in grade school for nothing. And, if you don’t get chills when the crowd’s chorus of “Weep no more my lady” swells across Churchill, DON’T consider yourself a true Kentuckian.

Did I miss something? I’m sure I did. Share your favorite Derby party tips in the comments section.

Article written by Mrs. Tyler Thompson

No, I will not make you a sandwich, but you can follow me on Twitter @MrsTylerKSR or email me.

28 Comments for KSR’s DOs and DON’Ts for hosting a successful Derby party

  1. SexnNursinHomes
    4:13 pm May 2, 2013 Permalink

    My only tip. The Designated Drivers should stick to cocaine, weed, or meth/crack combo. That way they can have fun and still have 0.000 BAC.

  2. Yoda
    4:24 pm May 2, 2013 Permalink

    I got chills just READING about the “My Old Kentucky Home” ending. I am a Kentuckian who has lived in Maryland, Florida, Virginia, and Ohio (holy crap, I gotta stop moving…) and traveled the world in the Navy, and the Kentucky Derby is one event that can be viewed anywhere and you can blatantly flaunt your State Pride with good reason (unlike Texas, who does it all the time). Can’t wait for Derby Day!

  3. JVice
    4:25 pm May 2, 2013 Permalink

    Native Kentuckian here. Born and raised. Does anyone else think that the Derby is the most meaningless big sporting event in existence? If this year was the last, I wouldn’t miss it. That’s probably blasphemy, but I just never got the allure. Watching a bunch of spoiled millionaires run their inbred horses to death. woot.

  4. CatGrad7072
    4:27 pm May 2, 2013 Permalink

    DON’T drink bourbon straight from the bottle unless it is less than 90 proof.

  5. kentuckycarter
    4:38 pm May 2, 2013 Permalink

    #3) NO WE DONT! What in the hell is wrong with you? For TRUE Kentuckians, this is the one of the most anticipated times of the year (next to final four weekend). There is nothing more endearing to a Kentuckian (especially one living outside the state) than to flip on the TV and get to watch derby coverage on the first Saturday in May. I dont live in Kentucky anymore, and I truly miss all of the Derby parties and gatherings. If you are a Native Kentuckian like you say you are, then you will apologize and get your sh*t in order.

  6. Kramer
    4:41 pm May 2, 2013 Permalink

    DO remember that they slightly changed the lyrics to “My Old Kentucky Home” a few years ago to make it a bit less racist. If you don’t, you’ll end up like my comic career.

  7. tlhoag17
    4:42 pm May 2, 2013 Permalink

    Mrs. T, I love hosting my derby party. This is our 6th year, I think. My alternate drink of choice is the “Oaks Lily”. Cranberry, Vodka, et al. We don’t do betting board but we do a “draw” for 1, 2, and 3rd place prizes. We usually do a trivia contest too with Kentucky and/or Derby trivia. I tried the Hat contest too but no one would wear them. Party poopers. Have a happy derby party, and yes its supposed to rain here too!

  8. sidenote from TT
    4:47 pm May 2, 2013 Permalink

    and of course, invite andrew wiggins to your party

  9. derby sucks
    4:47 pm May 2, 2013 Permalink

    I feel you #3. Dont know why watching the derby makes you a “true” Kentuckian. That’s just stupid. Shut up #5, you’re a fool that just goes with the flow. think for a change you idiot.

  10. Mc
    4:50 pm May 2, 2013 Permalink

    If Pitino’s horse wins does he get a big horse head tattoo on his ohter shoulder? Maybe he can put it above the “L” so it looks like it’s taking a dump.

  11. fdsf
    4:57 pm May 2, 2013 Permalink

    10, shut up. you fail. no one thought it was funny

    4:58 pm May 2, 2013 Permalink

    Don’t hate on the Derby just because you are socially awkward…!

  13. Bobbum man
    5:02 pm May 2, 2013 Permalink

    Don’t consider yourself a true Kentuckian? I don’t get it….. And 3 you’re an idiot
    And geez mrs TT but too much water in your bourbonade…. Clearly not a “true Kentuckian”

  14. Derby bet
    5:04 pm May 2, 2013 Permalink

    11, you should be the one to shut up. I thought it was hilarious.

  15. barn
    5:10 pm May 2, 2013 Permalink

    a ‘required taste’?

  16. BlueKolonel
    5:38 pm May 2, 2013 Permalink

    3-Yes you and apparently 9 are two of potentially less than ten Kentuckians who do not enjoy the Derby.
    9-You capitalize the first letter in a sentence. Use correct grammar, you idiot. Apparently your definition of “going with the flow” is appreciating a nearly 140 year old tradition. Somebody was picked on as a child.

  17. TRAVIS
    6:04 pm May 2, 2013 Permalink

    15. –> I’m with you. Let’s start a petition to get that changed to acquired.

  18. soggyUKgrad
    6:19 pm May 2, 2013 Permalink

    I love that Mrs. TT says mint juleps are a “required” taste instead of acquired….if you come to my Derby Party you are required to drink a mint julep!! Also, the Oaks Lily recipe is vodka and pre-mixed cosmopolitan mix…I’ve bartended several Oaks & Derby weekends

  19. Huntin chickens
    6:52 pm May 2, 2013 Permalink

    “Don’t consider yourself a true Kentuckian” WTF is up with that? We are all kentuckians on the first Saturday in May, it’s all the non natives chance to be a part of the best state in the nation for a day.

  20. ukfastcat
    6:52 pm May 2, 2013 Permalink

    15 & 17 Good catch. although I like the erroneous reference.
    Pretty sure most Derby fans look at juleps this weekend as both acquired and required tastes. LOL.

  21. Mrs. Tyler Thompson
    6:58 pm May 2, 2013 Permalink

    Haha, nice catch. I agree with ukfastcat, they are both acquired and required!

  22. Matt
    7:34 pm May 2, 2013 Permalink

    #11) I thought #10 was funny too.

  23. Al's IndiCats
    7:40 pm May 2, 2013 Permalink

    Personally I love the fact that the world is looking at Kentucky for even an hour. In Indy it’s the 500, and man they beat that dead horse for the whole damn month of May….You don’t like the Derby…fine, go play with those freaking Hoosiers who stumble out of the track and try to do their best Mario Andredi the whole while blowing .22% while they have their 5 kids in the back while doing 90 on 465

  24. bung
    8:18 pm May 2, 2013 Permalink

    real Kentuckians watch the Derby and like the fast break….

  25. Cyrus from Cornelius
    10:17 pm May 2, 2013 Permalink

    This post validates why most guy at Davidson did not marry a DC coed.

  26. Teachable Mo'
    9:50 am May 3, 2013 Permalink

    My family has lived in Kentucky since the 18th century and the Derby is *blah*. I like an early party to celebrate the cold rainy break from clear and warm that we always seem to get for Derby Day, but the race itself is the same as every other damn horse race.

  27. Kentlanta
    11:08 am May 3, 2013 Permalink

    We always have a loser’s pool along with the usual win, place & show drawings.
    In the loser’s pool the last place horse takes all. It keeps the non-race fans interested longer because it takes a while for them to announce the finish order of the entire race.

  28. JVice
    11:41 am May 3, 2013 Permalink

    5 – sorry. I’m not going to be able to oblige you and apologize for having an opinion that’s different than yours. From my point of view a “TRUE” Kentuckian likes basketball, and has probably worked in either tobacco or coal mines at some point. That’s much more representative of the populace than an elitist sport like horse racing.