Much more than a horse race |

Much more than a horse race

Special to the DailyIt's traditional for ladies at the Kentucky Derby to wear extravagant hats. Summer Thyme's Derby Party in Wolcott hosts a hat contest with a chance to win a $40 gift certificate for lunch at the restaurant.

Growing up in Louisville, Ky., Vail town councilman Mark Gordon recalls celebrating the Kentucky Derby at “living room parties” ” raucous bashes where indie bands from around the country would rock the hinges off houses for two straight weeks in honor of the world’s most famous horse race.

Gordon remembers one soiree in particular. It was Derby Day, and a New York band jammed at the “punk rock house.” People danced wildly next to sofas and end tables. At 5:30 p.m., the band halted play during mid song. Everyone rushed to the TV to catch The Run for the Roses ” the first leg of the Triple Crown, which is commonly referred to as “the most exciting two minutes in sports.”

When the race was over, and one lucky jockey blanketed in lush red roses waved to the crowd, some people cheered at the party, while others moped. But the band picked up right where it left off, because the Kentucky Derby is about much more than horse racing.

“It’s two weeks of incredible parties,” Gordon said. “The dogwoods are in bloom. The azaleas are in bloom. It’s a whole spring festival for two weeks.”

The Kentucky Derby takes place in Louisville, Ky., annually on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs racing field. Work falls to the way side during the festivities, Gordon said.

“It’s like a powder day,” he said. “You are either going to a Derby party or you’re hosting one.”

A number of traditions play a large role in Derby festivities. Everyone drinks mint juleps, an iced drink made from bourbon, mint and sugar syrup. At parties, people serve burgoo, a Kentucky stew made from everything and anything leftover in the kitchen, along with Louisville Hot Browns, an open-face turkey sandwich covered in cheese sauce that’s baked in the oven. Derby pie, a pecan pie made with chocolate and bourbon, is also on the menu.

The most practiced tradition, however, is wearing a Derby hat. Ladies actually build their outfits around elaborate hats, which can be decorated with everything from American flags to lace to flowers and feathers.

Red Sky Ranch’s Summer Thyme Restaurant hosts its second annual Derby party Saturday, playing up all the illustrious traditions, including a hat contest.

“It’s a great crowd. There’s a nice range of ages,” said Jonas Mikals, membership director at Red Sky, who attended last year’s party. “Everybody gets really dressed up. Men wear fancy pants and shirts, and women wear polka dot dresses or ones with ruffles.”

Chef O.J. Moore will cook up traditional fare including fried green tomatoes with rock shrimp and celery root remoulade, tea sandwiches and spareribs with bourbon-barbecue sauce.

“When you cook off the alcohol in bourbon, it leaves an oak barrel flavor,” Moore said. “They char the inside of bourbon barrels, it makes bourbon more mellow, less harsh.”

Moore said he hit the Internet to dig up traditional recipes, like Henry Bain sauce, which will top tenderloin sandwiches at the soiree. Henry Bain was the head waiter at Louisville’s Pendennis Club. He created the sauce which became a Derby favorite.

“We’re making it in-house,” Moore said. “It’s kind of a tomato chutney sauce.”

Summer Thyme’s bar will offer high-end bourbon from boutique Kentucky distillers and specialty drinks. Blue Grace Mountain Band will jam bluegrass on the patio, and the horse race will air on several big screens.

Gordon attended last year’s Red Sky party, and although it might not be an exact replica of the festivities in Kentucky, he said, it was still a lot of fun.

“It was nice to go to a party here that had some sort of the Derby feeling,” Gordon said.

Arts and Entertainment Editor Cassie Pence can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14640, or

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