Apr18

Bring the Kentucky Derby Parties to YOU

Looking for a fun excuse to throw a party this spring? Host a Southern-style, mint julep-fueled Derby Day gathering. You don’t need to make the trip to Churchill Downs to experience all the Derby has to offer. The fastest two minutes in sports leaves plenty of time for fun!

Your Party Plan

Free Derby-themed invites are available online (the Derby is run the first Saturday in May so you can plan ahead). Ask guests to dress in their festive and fancy Southern best. Think suits (seersucker if they’ve got ‘em) and bow ties for the gents; pretty dresses and grand hats (the larger the better!) for the ladies.

It’s easy to transform your home into a race day extravaganza. Make pennant banners with red paper triangles strung on ribbon. Use brightly colored tablecloths and napkins as a nod to the jockeys’ colorful uniforms, called “silks.” Hit a dollar store or toy shop for small horse figurines or trophies to decorate tables or cupcakes.

The Derby is often referred to as “The Run for the Roses” — red roses have been given to winners since the 1890s and even the winning horse is draped with them! Go all out here — try grand-seeming-but- easy-to-pull-off topiaries as tabletop decorations. Pick up topiary forms or foam balls at the craft store and fill with tightly packed blooms. Done! You can also tuck roses into traditional silver julep cups to make multiple small bouquets. Want to take the theme to the hilt? Fashion silk roses into a large horseshoe-shaped centerpiece or wall decoration to really evoke a race vibe.

Another fun idea: order official programs online so guests feel like they’re really at the races!

On The Menu?

The Kentucky Derby is one of the grandest sporting events in the South; the mint julep is its calling card and a must at your party! It’s classically served in sterling cups, or you could try small glass or plastic tumblers. A simple recipe involves two ounces of Kentucky bourbon, muddled with six or seven fresh mint leaves, and a tablespoon of simple syrup served over crushed ice garnished with a mint sprig. They’re traditionally made individually, but if you’re serving a crowd, go for Mint Julep Punch in a pretty drink dispenser. You can also offer other whiskey-based cocktails like Ginger Peach Whiskey Sours. Offer pitchers of Southern-style iced “sweet tea” and lemonade for non-imbibers.

Have fun with a Southern-style menu. Easy options include Sweet & Spicy Pecans, Bourbon Glazed BBQ Ribs, or a simple platter of country ham and biscuits with an assortment of mustards and chutneys. Tea sandwiches served on ladylike trays or a pretty platter of shrimp or crudité would be welcome additions. To really keep it simple (and a little kitschy), just grab some buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken!

For dessert, go for pecan pie or bourbon truffles. A tiered cupcake stand with red rose bedecked cupcakes is another cute option.

Let the Fun Begin!

Put on bluegrass or Dixieland tunes and greet guests with a julep and red rose corsage. The actual race is over in a flash, so plan a few Derby-inspired games to keep everyone entertained.

Post a board with the odds for each horse and take bets (or have guests pick out of a hat). Post-race, screen Seabiscuit, The Black Stallion, or Flicka to keep the horse theme going. Be sure to host a “Best, Craziest, Prettiest, Ugliest” hat contest, too.

If you want to blow away the kiddies, call a local farm and have pony rides in the yard. Horseshoes and cornhole are other awesome outdoor additions. You can host your own “Run for the Roses” with a team relay race passing a bunch of (thornless!) roses back and forth under chins. Or pick-up stick horses so the kids can run their own derby. It’s up to you if you want to wager on them! A Derby Day party is a blast for all ages and just may become an annual tradition you and your friends look forward to each spring.

What’s your favorite Southern-style dish?

Julie Hartigan

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is a recovering engineer turned chef. She develops recipes and writes about cooking, entertaining, and health for Bed Bath & Beyond, WeightWatchers, FitPregnancy, and others, looking for the spot "where Healthy meets Happy." Julie shares a small urban condo with her 2 little girls, 2 chubby guinea pigs, and 1 very patient husband. You can find her on Twitter @cookingwjulie.

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