Thursday, May 7, 2009

Recessionista at the Races

The Kentucky Derby has been an American tradition since the 1930's. With a legacy of distinct glamour (think seersucker suits and big, bigger, BIGGEST hats) mixed with accessibility (Infield tickets generally run for about $25), the Derby continues to offer the majority of Americans an experience of a lifetime. Since I was an eager and fortunate neophyte to the Kentucky Derby experience this year, here are, free of charge, the findings I brought back from Churchhill Downs and Louisville:

 1. The Notorious Mint Julep. Lesson one: Just because it tastes delicious, doesn't make it any less potent. Most of the time, this Recessionista sticks with a safe Chardonnay, but when in Louisville...If you have the good fortune to attend the Derby, note that Kentucky natives are very proud and even more particular about the Derby drink of choice. Proper mint juleps are served in a silver glass (the Kentucky Derby collector glasses used in box seating are generally the exception) and made from Kentucky bourbon. To recreate a bit of the excitement at home or for friends, follow the recipe from the official Kentucky Derby website:

The Early Times Mint Julep Recipe

·         2 cups sugar

·         2 cups water

·         Sprigs of fresh mint

·         Crushed ice

·         Early Times Kentucky Whisky

·         Silver Julep Cups

Make a simple syrup by boiling sugar and water together for five minutes. Cool and place in a covered container with six or eight sprigs of fresh mint, then refrigerate overnight. Make one julep at a time by filling a julep cup with crushed ice, adding one tablespoon mint syrup and two ounces of Early Times Kentucky Whisky. Stir rapidly with a spoon to frost the outside of the cup. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.

2.  Derby Attire. Generally, dressing up for the races is protocol.  For men, this means suits (bonus points for seersuckers accessorized with hats).  For women, this means dresses and noteworthy hats.  Look through your closet, and, while trying to avoid black, opt towards something you might wear to an upscale, nighttime spring/summer wedding.  The exception to this rule is Infield ticket holders - nothing is worse in a mudpit than an evening gown or tux.

3.  Placing Your Bets.  To be perfectly honest, I was a little overwhelmed with this one.  If it is not available already, someone should write "Derby Betting for Dummies."  I will keep it simple and use a "one horse" example ( we will use Einstein, a horse that won Race 9).  If I had (and luckily, I did) suspect that Einstein was going to place (i.e. 1st, 2nd, or 3rd), I would place my bet (minimum $2) by saying #6 (Einstein's number) to win, place, or show, as I passed on my $6 (one $2 bet per prospective placing).  Payouts are determined based on odds (2 to 1 will bring in a lot less of a payout compared to 50 to 1, for instance.)  There are other permutations (Trifecta, for instance, which is a sort of equivalent to a Poker Royal Flush - 1st, 2nd, 3rd place finish in the exact order you had bet upon), but I will save the more complex and involved betting strategies to the experts.  Once you put your money down, simply take your tickets back and say a "Hail Mary" or two.

4.  Louisville Proper.  For Recessionistas that are less than familiar with the Southern hospitality, you are in for a treat.  The people of Louisville are proud of and excited for the Derby, a stark contrast to many other cities and their reception of out-of-towners.  A stand out establishment is the Executive Spa in downtown Louisville.  Not only were my fellow Recessionista and I treated like princesses in the male-oriented, full-service executive  lounge, which includes a billiard table, shoe shines, and straight razor shaves, but my internationally-renowned master barber Farrell Stephens proved with my hair cut and style his acclaimed ability in working the razor beyond his notorious shave technique.  To ease into the Derby experience, I would be hard-pressed to find a better place to find the relaxation you deserve.

Whether your tickets are in Millionaire's Row or in the midst of the infield, the Kentucky Derby is an experience of a lifetime.  You will truly enjoy the entirety of this event...I'll bet on it!

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