Watching the Kentucky Derby has been a family tradition since I was young. And honestly, I am not sure why.
We are not “horse people” at all. I went horseback riding twice in my life and while I had a good time, it did not spark in me the desire to make it a regular thing. And we don’t watch other horse races, just the Derby.
I remember it was always a big deal. When I was little, I’d wear some sort of “fancy” hat – usually an Easter hat or a straw hat with fake flowers or we would make our own paper hats. This was my favorite part of the race. I think maybe I just like hats because whenever we had a “Hat Day” at school I always fashioned my own hat of some sort: My favorite was an Irish themed spring hat that included a paper rainbow and pot of gold. I even created a hat with newspaper roses for the last Women’s Club Tea (and earned myself a Most Creative award).
As an adult, I attended the Holyoke Merry Go-Round’s Derby Day fundraiser, which was always a great time. And yes, hats were worn. Perhaps I was British in a former life.
But I digress . . . on Kentucky Derby Day my family would gather at my grandparents’ house for pre-race snacks and betting. We would look up the horses in the paper and everyone picked their favorite and placed a bet – typically no more than $5. Some people actually looked at the odds when choosing their favorite. Someone always bet on the horse with the worst odds, and I chose the name I liked best.
This continued for many years and even after my grandparents passed, we would still honor the tradition in a different way. Instead of a gathering and selection of specific horses, someone would write all the horses’ names on individual slips of paper and put them in a hat. Anyone who wanted to participate would place a bet with the organizer and a name would be drawn for them. The winner took home the pot and bragging rights.
During the pandemic we suspended our Derby tradition, but you can bet I picked my horse – Soup and Sandwich – and wore a fun hat with a Mint Julep, which I raised in a toast to my family.