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Kentucky Derby Traditions That Everyone Should Know

Kentucky Derby Traditions That Everyone Should Know: With less than a month to go before the 141st Kentucky Derby, every fan, handicapper, and unknowing spectator should learn a little bit about some of the most famous Kentucky traditions. The Kentucky Derby has been the spectacle of horse racing since 1875, the year a chestnut colt named Aristides won the inaugural running. What some should know about the Kentucky Derby is that it may not always be about the horses, at least for some. The Kentucky Derby has become so much more than that! Here’s a little about some of the traditions one may see, and even participate in, come Derby Day.

My Old Kentucky Home – The University of Louisville marching band lines up to perform this ballad written by Stephen Foster. While no one knows for sure when the song was first played, there have been reports that it was played in 1929 throughout the day of that year’s Kentucky Derby. Since 1936, the Louisville marching band has played the song while the horses make their ways to the starting gate for the historic race. To thank Foster for the song, Churchill Downs has a Grade II race named in honor of the composer.

Kentucky Derby Traditions

The University of Louisville marching band lines up to perform the ballad My Old Kentucky Home by Stephen Foster. Photo: LATT

The Oaks Lily – While the Run for the Lilies is the Kentucky Oaks, the drink has become increasingly popular. The Oaks Lily is made with Grey Goose Vodka and Cosmopolitan Mix and garnished with a cranberry. The drink was launched in 2006 and is served in a glass with the Kentucky Oaks logo of the respective year on the side. The Oaks Lily was created for targeting the more feminine interests in racing. The bourbon in the Julep is not always as attractive to some as the Oaks Lily tends to be.

Kentucky Derby Traditions

The Oaks Lily is made with Grey Goose Vodka and Cosmopolitan Mix and garnished with a cranberry. Photo: LATT

The Mint Julep – Speaking of bourbon, the Mint Julep is the signature drink of the Kentucky Derby. While the drink has been around for more than a century, the current and “Official Mint Julep of the Kentucky Derby” made with Early Times Kentucky Whiskey has only been around for 18 years. Every year, within a two-day period almost 120,000 Mint Juleps are served, 1,000 pounds of mint are used, and nearly 60,000 pounds of ice are scooped for the making of the Kentucky Derby signature drink.

Kentucky Derby Traditions

The legendary Mint Julep is the signature drink of the Kentucky Derby. Photo: LATT

The Twin Spires – The Twin Spires were not a part of the original Churchill Downs grandstand but instead were constructed in 1895 when the grandstand was rebuilt. The builder, 24-year-old draftsman Joseph Dominic Baldez, drew the blueprints for the new grandstand and originally did not include the spires, but eventually he felt that they were needed to set the track apart. Since then, the Twin Spires have become iconic and a landmark, unique to only Churchill Downs.

Kentucky Derby Traditions

The Twin Spires were not a part of the original Churchill Downs grandstand but instead were constructed in 1895 when the grandstand was rebuilt. Photo: Casey Laughter

Hats! Hats! Hats! – Hats are not only an essential part of the women’s ensemble, but the bigger the better! Hats cannot only be worth thousands of dollars, they can be the centerpieces of any outfit. Hats big and small from all over the world are found atop ladies for exhibition on Derby and Oaks day!

Kentucky Derby Traditions

Hats big and small from all over the world are found atop ladies for exhibition on Derby and Oaks day! Photo: LATT

And finally…

The Garland of Roses – The rose first emerged as a Derby tradition when the women at the Derby were presented roses. The winner of the Kentucky Derby to first receive roses was in 1896 when Ben Brush received a bouquet of pink and white roses. In 1904, the red rose became the official flower of the Kentucky Derby. The tradition was strengthened when columnist Bill Corum dubbed the Kentucky Derby the “Run for the Roses.” The garland that we know today emerged in 1932 when Burgoo King won the 58th running of the race. Before 1996, the owner received a silk duplicate of the garland, but since then, the owner has been allowed to keep the garland of roses, which is most often sent to be freeze-dried.

Kentucky Derby Traditions

The rose first emerged as a Derby tradition when the women at the Derby were presented roses. Photo: kentuckyderby.com

Related Links:
Top Five Throwback Kentucky Derby Jockeys
Top Five Kentucky Derby Upsets of All Time
Top Five Kentucky Derby Trainers of All Time
Kentucky Derby Travel Tips: Top Five Churchill Downs Photo Ops
Kentucky Derby Travel Tips: Top Five Farms to Visit

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