Thoroughbred Horse Racing Traditions
For some people like ranchers, trainers, and racing aficionados, life is governed by the traditions of a horse's lifecycle. No foal is born without having been bred, which includes analyzing each parent's blood line, calculating genetic probabilities, and negotiating stud fees. There are races for each stage in a young horse's life capped by a time when it is turned out "to pasture" and some years of retirement and parenthood.
However, even for the casual fan of thoroughbred horse racing, there are enjoyable traditions, usually based around the races.
The Kentucky Derby
The Kentucky Derby may be as much about partying as about thoroughbred horse racing. It is actually a two day event, with a race for fillies the day before the main race. During these two days, it is estimated that 80,000 mint juleps are consumed around the racetrack. The well-heeled sip from frosted sterling glasses in roomy boxes. Many of the society ladies, true to the scene in "My Fair Lady", dress up in their finest for Derby Day, even up to enormous hats and silk dresses.
The middle of the track is, in contrast, more like a mosh pit. The people who pay the fairly low ticket price know they cannot actually see much of the race, but go for the party instead. Hunter S. Thompson famously criticized the atmosphere in the 1970 essay, "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved."
Whether or not the scene at Churchill Downs is like the way Thompson described it - that is something worth debating. But plenty of fans create their own party at home, of whatever character they like, whether or not they really know much about thoroughbred horse racing, it is still a good opportunity for a get-together. Many families originally from Kentucky have Derby Parties, which might just be a few friends sitting around watching the game together, or a bigger event, maybe with betting, and generally with drinking.
Derby Day brings many Kentuckians out for some kind of thoroughbred horse racing related activity. Since the 1930s, it has been a tradition for the governor to hold a public breakfast in the state capital, Frankfort. As many people as want to come for a free breakfast and entertainment. Tourists also flood the area for Derby Day, and plenty of cities and towns are ready to welcome them with their own thoroughbred horse racing traditions. Many people dare not brave Churchill Downs and instead attend public parties at various places that set up huge outdoor screens to broadcast the race or family-oriented gatherings that offer pony rides for kids.