I pointed to the huge grassy meadow enclosed by the track. "That whole thing," I said, "will be jammed with people; fifty thousand or so, and most of them staggering drunk. It's a fantastic scene — thousands of people fainting, crying, copulating, trampling each other and fighting with broken whiskey bottles. We'll have to spend some time out there, but it's hard to move around, too many bodies."
- Hunter S. Thompson, The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved
I always wanted to bet on the ponies, but I never got up the gumption to go out to Portland Meadows to watch the races. Add to my horse betting desire a strong thirst for mint juleps and you can rest assured I’ll be in the Rialto tomorrow for derby day.
It’s the 135th year that the derby has been run at Churchill Downs. That’s a whole lot of fancy hats, drunken Kentucky Colonels, and fortunes lost and won. I doubt I’ll ever get to Chruchill Downs to watch the race in person, but I feel as if a modicum of that excitement can surely be found in the standing-room only crowd at the airy Rialto. It ain’t wild enough to be the infield, and it sure as hell isn’t cultured enough to be the clubhouse, but Portlanders love to play dress up and you’ll see your fair share of ladies in fancy hats and guys in strikingly non-ironic neckwear.
But the real thing is happening in the off-track-betting venue next door, where the real gamblers hang out. To them the derby is just another horse race in a string of races happening around the country. There are no fancy hats. There is little neckwear. These are the die-hards and hanging out with them is sure to educate you in an aspect of the human condition you may have disregarded.
But lets think about something happier. Lets think about winning! Friesen Fire is considered a favorite for tomorrows race. He’s good on a messy track (forecast calls for rain), incredibly fast, and has a trainer who brought in runners-up in the last two derbies (Eight Belles ruined my trifecta last year). But in order win money on Friesen Fire you’ll need to know how to place a bet. You can find a perfectly reasonable tutorial from About.com here.
Not going to the Rialto but still want a mint julep? Here’s your recipe (From the Mr. Boston Official Bartenders Guide):
4 sprigs mint
1 tsp Superfine Sugar
2 tsp water
2 1/2 oz. Bourbon
In glass, muddle mint leaves, sugar, and water. Fill glass with shaved ice or crushed ice. Add Bourbon. Top with more ice and garnish with mint sprig.
Not interested in staying home or going to the Rialto? EaT Oyster Bar is throwing a derby party featuring a $15 all you can eat catfish fry with hush puppies, coleslaw, Texas toast, and $4 mint juleps. From 12pm to 5pm.
Now all you need is a fancy hat. Don’t look at me. Look here.