While I may not be at Churchill Downs tomorrow for the fastest two minutes in sports, I will be hosting a Derby party. Like many ex-pat UK fans, I’ve been unwilling to part with the tradition that accompanies the first Saturday in May, and have taken it upon myself to host a Derby Party to educate my Nashville family on all things Derby. For the past seven or eight years, it’s been a smashing success. Knowing that there are way larger and fancier Derby parties happening across the Bluegrass and beyond tomorrow, here are some of my humble tips for hosting a successful shindig:
DO be happy about the forecast: Thankfully, it appears rain won’t be an issue tomorrow, at least in our area. For once, the weather gods are working with us, instead of causing mad stress like years past. This time last year, I was frantically refreshing the Weather Channel’s hourly forecast, researching the true meaning of “isolated showers,” and running from Walmart to Target to Lowes to find the best pop-up canopy tents. No matter what drama befalls you tomorrow, at least it will be sunny and beautiful.
DO make bourbonade: For my first few Derby parties, I was obsessed with making everything authentic. I had country ham and beaten biscuits shipped in, drove up to Liquor Barn in KY to get the authentic Derby glasses and party supplies, and made sure I had all the supplies to make a proper mint julep. Not even the Maker’s Mark mix would do. Unfortunately, it was all for naught. Mint juleps are a notoriously required taste, and the poor fresh mint leaves I plucked from a neighbors yard wilted pathetically in the corner. After that, I decided to buy the Maker’s Mark mix, as well as provide an alternative. Hence, bourbonade was born:
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
The drink was such a hit that we even served it at our wedding. I hope you guys enjoy it.
DON’T make a ton of food: If there’s one thing I’ve learned from years of hosting parties, it’s that it’s not worth making a ton of snacks yourself, because people will more than likely bring their own. We abide by the potluck party method, asking each guest to bring a “small side dish,” which could mean anything from bacon-wrapped scallops (foodie friends) to the always reliable bag of Doritos (slackers). Keep it simple and make a few sides and rely on your friends for the rest. Odds are your fridge will still be packed the next day.
DO wear a hat: It’s not Derby without hats. Up the ante and hold a best hat contest, and provide guests who don’t wear one with cheap, silly hats. Liquor Barn sells the cheap plastic jockey hats that are always good for a laugh, especially in the wee hours of the night.
DO pace yourself if you’re hosting: We’ve all 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 forget extra TP: You can never have too much. This is also a great rule for life in general.
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. Willie Cauley-Stein, 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.
I probably missed something, and you’ll probably tell me in the comments section. Happy Derby!