Not being able to celebrate the Kentucky Derby with big parties this year is all the more reason to do it up at home. Let the historic horse race — postponed to Saturday, September 5 at 6:50 p.m. — be your excuse to break up the monotony, dust off the formal side of your wardrobe, and throw a mini party with your quarantine squad.
The country’s longest-running sporting event at 146 years old, the Kentucky Derby is often called the greatest two minutes in sports. Traditionally celebrated at Churchill Downs in Louisville, it’s the first and most renowned of the three-round horse race known as the Triple Crown. Tens of thousands gather each year to cheer on their horse while sipping mint juleps and donning hats.
Though this year’s celebration comes with social distancing, that doesn’t mean you can’t still partake. Woodford Reserve, the official bourbon and presenting sponsor of the Kentucky Derby, shares everything you need to know about how to throw an authentic party from home.
Once you’re party-ready, follow @OpenTable and @WoodfordReserve on Instagram, and comment on the OpenTable Derby post with the way you are planning to Derby from home this year. Include the #opentablexwoodford hashtag for the chance to win a special prize package of Woodford Reserve goodies including a $1,000 Mint Julep cup, measuring jigger, copper ice bucket, julep cups, mint julep syrup, copper coasters, and a copper stir stick. You must be at least 21 years old to enter; see full terms below.
Stock up on bourbon
The official drink of the Kentucky Derby is the mint julep. This refreshing, simple beverage — made with Woodford Reserve bourbon, simple syrup, fresh mint leaves, and crushed ice — is the perfect starter to a Kentucky Derby celebration. But there is also a new Derby drink, the refreshing and tasty Woodford Spire, served at the track for three years now. It’s a combination of bourbon, lemonade, and cranberry — perfect for a September day. Both recipes are below.
Woodford Reserve has been the event’s presenting sponsor for three years, adding authenticity to the day’s drinks. Find a bottle near you.
Order Southern food
Southern food is a must at any Kentucky Derby celebration, ideally pimento cheese sandwiches, country ham, and biscuits — all food served at the track — though any traditional Southern food will absolutely delight. Use OpenTable to find a Southern restaurant near you to order a spread that will make the day delicious. You can even order and pay for takeout directly in the OpenTable app for some restaurants.
Get lots and lots of roses
It wouldn’t be a Kentucky Derby party without red roses. The traditional flower is what’s been used for more than 100 years to crown glory on the winning horse, which is draped with a garland of fresh red roses upon victory. The garland tradition dates back to 1932, but the rose was a big part of the Derby for long before that.
Since 1883, it’s been standard practice to give women attending Derby parties roses, and then-Churchill Downs president Colonel Lewis Clark reportedly loved the practice so much that he incorporated the flower into the event. Floral arrangements have been gifted to winners since 1896, predating when the rose became the race’s official flower in 1904 — eventually evolving into the grandiose garland, made with more than 400 roses hand-sewn into green satin, used today. Decorating with the bright flower will add flair to any celebration.
Extravagant hats and bright bow ties are standard Kentucky Derby dress — the bigger, the better. The tradition came from wanting to turn the Derby into a world-class race that rated among European-style events, which required full morning dress for men and women. Mandating the same quickly turned the Derby into an opportunity for attendees to show off their wardrobes and display the latest in spring fashion.
Hats weren’t a part of the fun until the event started getting televised in the 1960s, and donning big, bright headwear was a way to stand out from the crowds on TV. Do the same by using the day as a reason to break out your most dapper outfits and accessorize with your wildest hats and ties. If you really want to go the extra mile, share a selfie on social media to stand out from the feed.
Learn some new lyrics
Rouse your fellow partiers with a hearty rendition of “My Old Kentucky Home,” the official state song of Kentucky that’s traditionally sung at the track by all 160,000 attendees in normal years, just after the Call to the Post. The song has a long history of being played at the event, but it’s had an official place as the song performed by the University of Louisville Marching Band as the horses make their way from the paddock to the starting gate almost every year since 1936. It’s a way to show Kentucky pride for the state’s most renowned event. Learn the lyrics, and lead everyone in a round.
Derby Day drink recipes
2 ounces Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
1/2 ounce simple syrup
3 fresh mint leaves
Express the essential oils in the mint and rub them inside the glass. To the same glass, add simple syrup, bourbon, and crushed ice. Stir. Garnish with more ice, fresh mint, and powdered sugar.
1.5 ounces Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
2 ounces lemonade
1 ounce cranberry juice
Add ingredients to mixing glass and stir. Pour over ice. Garnish with a lemon twist.
Crafted Carefully. Drink Responsibly.
Woodford Reserve®, in a registered trademarks of Brown-Forman Corporation, Louisville, KY ©2019.