Grab your mint julep, big bright hat, and bow tie – we’re heading to the Derby!
As I mentioned in a few posts (and if you’re following me on social media, you also probably know), I had an opportunity to attend the Kentucky Derby this year. A few months ago the lovely folks at 14 Hands Winery invited me to be one of their guests. It was a very surreal moment. While the Derby was something I’d heard about, I never imagined I’d get to attend. As you can imagine, I was ecstatic when their invite appeared in my inbox.
You may be wondering what the connection is between 14 Hands Winery and the Kentucky Derby. Well, 14 Hands happens to be one of the sponsors of the Derby. Why are they a sponsor? Well, horses are measured by hand lengths, and 14 Hands grows their grapes in the hills of eastern Washington State where wild mustangs once roamed. Those mustangs typically measured fourteen hands high. Pretty cool, right? You can read more about their story on the 14 Hands website here.
Anywho, after lots of online shopping and packing about a dozen outfits (for three days mind you), I skipped off to Louisville, Kentucky for the Derby.
I was joined by Katie of Q Katie (a YouTuber) and Autumn of Divine Lifestyle (a fellow blogger). They are fabulous ladies, so be sure check them out. Upon our arrival we headed off to the Taste of Derby Festival. This event brings together top chefs from around the country to share their best Derby-inspired dishes. Naturally, every dish was paired with a 14 Hands wine. Clearly, it was a delicious and fun evening.
After being fully stuffed, it was time to call it a day. The next morning we headed off to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Oaks. On our way, we made a quick detour to pick up some hats for Derby Day.
Even if you don’t know much about the Derby, you’re probably aware that the woman (and even some of the men) wear big hats decorated with feathers, flowers, etc. The lovely folks at 14 Hands took us to Dee’s Hats which has become a Louisville staple for Derby hats. I forget the exact number, but Dee’s makes close to 3,000 hats each year for the Derby.
Since hats are serious business, you can specify what you need to ensure that your hat matches your outfit. If you’re not Louisville-based, you can send in pictures of your outfit, and the shop will create something to match. In fact, we saw a Derby hat that was made out of a dress. Yes, a woman bought two dresses of the exact same style and had one cut up so that elements of it could be incorporated into a hat. I told you, hat making is serious business.
Our group got fitted with our hats (you’ll see them in some of the pictures below) and off to Churchill Downs we went. The day before the official Kentucky Derby is the Kentucky Oaks. This is a race for three-year-old fillies (female horses). Attendees are asked to “Pink out!” that is, wear pink for the day. Churchill Downs (in partnership with Bright Pink) uses this as an opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of prevention and early detection of breast and ovarian cancer in young woman. There’s even a survivors’ parade on the track before the main race. It’s truly a beautiful experience.
Our seats for the Kentucky Derby and Oaks races were in the infield, literally a few yards from the track. When the horses ran by, we could feel the vibration in our seats. It was an incredible experience that gave me goosebumps every time.
As some of you may know, the Kentucky Derby is famous for its mint juleps. The Kentucky Oaks also has a drink for the day which is called the Oaks Lily. This drink was inspired by the larger garland of pink lilies (known as the “Lilies for the Fillies”) that adorns the winning horse.
After a long, fun day at the track we rested in preparation for the following day – the official Kentucky Derby!
While I was super impressed by the outfits at the Oaks, the derby was beyond spectacular. As fellow Derby attendee Katie so aptly said, “It was the biggest, fanciest party I’ve ever been to.” I couldn’t agree more. I opted for a seersucker blazer, pastel blue pants, a bow-tie with little mint juleps printed on it, and of course, my hat from Dees. I like to think I was stylin’.
Races run all day long at the Derby with the big race happening around 6:30 p.m. There’s downtime in between so you can sip on cocktails, snack, and place your bets.
Even though I’m not a big bourbon fan, I stuck with the classic mint julep for the day. It was perfection. I love a few things about it. First, the glass. Each year the derby designs a new glass for the race. How cute, right? Secondly, the crushed ice. You wouldn’t think that the shape of ice makes a difference in a cocktail, but it sure does. Crushed ice for the win!
I even brought along a few of my DIY Horse Drink Stirrers to adorn my drink and share with my new friends. The stirrers were a huge hit in our seating area. Dozens of people were asking where we got them. It was a proud moment for IBC. (Image below via Pierogi Creative)
While we were sipping on our mint juleps (and 14 Hands wines, of course) we snuck in a few bets. We placed one as a group, and I threw in $20 in an attempt to pick the winner. While I’m not usually a betting man, I figured it was part of the experience.
The actual derby race was more thrilling than I could have imagined. The excitement in the air was palpable and the roar of the crowd was a tsunami of sound. If you ever get the chance to attend or have thought about attending. It’s well worth it for those two amazing minutes.
Nyquist took home the big prize. And to my surprise, he was one of the horses I bet on! Winner, winner! (Don’t get too excited. I think my winnings totaled $13. Haha. But still, I won.)
Needless to say, it was a great day at the Derby!
Want another peek into my Derby experience? Check out Katie’s YouTube video. There’s even a little cameo of yours truly.
A big shout-out to Katie and Autumn. It was a joy being able to experience the derby with them. I couldn’t have asked for better people.
Also, whether you find yourself in Louisville for the Derby or are visiting another time of the year, I have a few downtown shopping recommendations. Check out CRAFT(s) Gallery and Gifthorse Shop. They are located near one another on East Market Street. There’s also a shop between them that’s full of quirky goodies, but I can’t remember its name. And, if you’re looking for a bite to eat, Milkwood is a must. It’s a fusion restaurant that combines southern inspiration with Asian flavors. The food is beyond delicious.
And that my friends recaps my incredible Derby experience. I can’t thank 14 Hands Winery enough for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Throughout the trip, we were able to sample lots of wine.14 Hands is available nationwide and comes at a great price point. Personally, I recommend the Sauvignon Blanc, Hot to Trot White Blend, and The Reserve Merlot. Yes, merlot. I’m usually not a fan of merlot, but this stuff is sensational. Also, I’m really looking forward to their Brut Rosé which is coming out soon if it’s not already available.
Cheers to the Derby!