Is the Kentucky Derby for Everyone?

For the uninitiated, the Kentucky Derby evokes images of rich men, and women in large, fancy hats. It would be interesting to see, but one might feel out of place. So, is it for everyone, or only the elite?


In May, the Kentucky Derby 2022 will be held, as it has been since 1872. Merriweather Lewis Clark, the grandson of William Clark, best known for the Lewis and Clark expeditions, established the first Kentucky Derby. Clark wanted to bring the horse racing tradition to the US, and managed to get about 10,000 people to come and watch15 horses pounding their way across 1.5 miles. There could only be one winner, and that was Aristedes- named after an Ancient Athenian known as ‘The Just’. Since then many things have changed. The race track was reduced to 1 ¼ mile, a grandstand was built to accommodate all the spectators, and a red rose became the official flower.

The Hats

The well known tradition of the Kentucky Derby hats, was the first attempt at inclusion at the races. Clark was aware that these races had a reputation for being immoral, so he encouraged high society women to come to the races and have a picnic. It was so successful that it became a tradition. To this day, women display hats that are extravagant but also fun and playful. They are so well represented in the pictures of the event that you might not realize that not all of the women have hats.

For Everyone

It’s true that there are more expensive seats for high society patrons, and that they dominate the media. Yet, the Kentucky Derby is also local. People watching from the infield are casually dressed, and it’s known to be a bit of a party.  Besides the hats, there are plenty of other traditions. The food is mostly Southern, such as country ham, corn pudding and biscuits; but the real tradition is the drink- a mint julep. This drink is based around bourbon, with water, sugar, ice shavings and mint. You’ll also want to learn the song “My Old Kentucky Home”. Kids are allowed, but it’s not recommended because of crowding and drinking. So, bring a rose, buy a mint julep, and admire the famous hats as you sing and cheer. The Derby can be for almost anyone.


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