By Sherri Middleton
As we all know by now, this year has been like no other in our lives. The world shut down, and along with the closing of businesses, schools, and the global economy, sports have been a casualty.
When Churchill Downs Incorporated announced that the 146th Kentucky Derby would not be held on the first Saturday of May this year, well, a collective groan was heard ‘round the world. Oh, wait. Maybe that was just me and some of my horseracing-loving friends. Yet another victim of the pandemic.
In the past 145 years, the race has never been canceled. It was postponed only once in 1945.
This American tradition needed to go on, and it will go on the first Saturday in September. Sadly the race will run without fans.
The City of Louisville and its people will make the best of this as only they can. The Derby will continue its tradition of racing – this year with everyone watching in living rooms and in backyards, and we’ll all remember the year that took our beloved sports from us.
In preparation for the September 5th event, I thought I’d provide some fun facts and ideas for enjoying this year’s race from the safety of home. It’s time to have some fun.
First, people eat a lot at the Derby each May. Think thousands of pounds of hotdogs, barbeque, beef, shrimp and potatoes.
Last year, Churchill Downs Racetrack announced an official menu that included an at-home Derby party menu with easy-to-make recipe variations of the official dishes served on Derby Day.
That menu included enough food to feed 22,000 guests in premium dining areas during the Kentucky Oaks on the Friday before the Derby. It required 8,000 heads of locally grown lettuce, 22,000 chicken breasts, 7,600 pounds of potatoes, 5,640 pounds of turkey and 8,200 pounds of pasta.
Among last year’s menu items, the menu featured scallop and prawn sausage with black truffle, Moroccan spiced lamb meatballs and a bourbon citrus salmon. Try some or all of these recipes yourself by visiting www.kentuckyderby.com and looking for the Watch & Party tab at the top of the page. The recipes are presented by the chefs and Woodford Reserve.
I’m thinking about trying the Kentuckyaki Wings and the bourbon pickled peaches by Churchill Downs executive chef David Danielson.
And if you want a real taste of Louisville, try the Hot Brown from the Brown Hotel. A trip to Louisville is not complete with a Hot Brown.
As legend has it, the Brown Hotel drew more than 1,200 guests each night for its dinner dance in the 1920s. After a long night of entertainment, the guests would head to the restaurant and then chef Fred Schmidt created an open-faced turkey sandwich with bacon and mornay sauce to provide something more glamorous than a simple meal of ham and eggs.
THE WORLD-FAMOUS HOT BROWN
Makes Two Hot Browns
• 2 oz. Whole Butter
• 2 oz. All-Purpose Flour
• 8 oz. Heavy Cream
• 8 oz. Whole Milk
• ½ Cup of Pecorino Romano Cheese
Plus 1 Tablespoon for Garnish
• Pinch of Ground Nutmeg
• Salt and Pepper to Taste
• 14 oz. Sliced Roasted Turkey Breast, Slice Thick
• 4 Slices of Texas Toast (Crust Trimmed)
• 4 Slices of Crispy Bacon
• 2 Roma Tomatoes, Sliced in Half
In a two-quart saucepan, melt butter and slowly whisk in flour until combined and forms a thick paste (roux). Continue to cook roux for two minutes over medium-low heat, stirring frequently. Whisk heavy cream and whole milk into the roux and cook over medium heat until the cream begins to simmer about 2 3 minutes. Remove sauce from heat and slowly whisk in Pecorino Romano cheese until the Mornay sauce is smooth. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste.
For each Hot Brown, place two slices of toast with the crusts cut off in an oven safe dish – one slice is cut in half corner to corner to make two triangles and the other slice is left in a square shape – then cover with 7 ounces of turkey. Take the two halves of Roma tomato and two toast points and set them alongside the base of the turkey and toast. Next, pour one half of the Mornay sauce to completely cover the dish. Sprinkle with additional Pecorino Romano cheese. Place the entire dish in the oven. The suggested bake time is 20 minutes at 350º. When the cheese begins to brown and bubble, remove from oven, cross two pieces of crispy bacon on top, sprinkle with paprika and parsley, and serve immediately.
And a Derby celebration would not be complete without a signature beverage. The traditional drink is the mint julep and approximately 120,000 of these concoctions are consumed each year on race day.
Kentucky is known for its bourbon – it even has a Bourbon Trail of its distilleries that is popular among bourbon drinkers. Our friends at Team Kentucky know a lot about sports and they can share their knowledge about the iconic bourbon places that define Kentucky, such as Jim Beam, Four Roses, Angel’s Envy, Old Forester, Woodford Reserve and Bardstown Bourbon Company. You can even bike the trail.
The Classic Mint Julep includes 2 ounces of bourbon, ½ ounce of simple syrup, three fresh mint leaves and crushed ice. Rub the mint leaves inside the glass and add the simple syrup, bourbon and crushed ice. Stir. Garnish with fresh mint and more ice. The mocktail version includes a half-ounce of simple syrup with unsweetened tea.
The glass is also unique to the Derby. It is recommended to be poured in a tall glass called a julep glass. The story has it that the mint julep became the official drink in 1939, but it supposedly all started in 1877 when a Polish actress ordered a large one intended for a group. She drank the whole julep herself and ordered another one.
Then after Prohibition, the drink became official. Racetrack managers apparently discovered the glasses were being taken as souvenirs, so, in 1940, the official Derby glass was made and sold. The price of the glass with the drink is now about $11 at Churchill Downs. Each year a new glass is manufactured as collector’s items and features a new front design with the winners from the race’s history on the back. This year’s official glass is available online for $5.99.
Other cocktail recipes such as the Woodford Reserve Spire, the Blue Moon Julep, the Old Forester Hot Buttered Bourbon, a Finlandia Spicy Bloody Mary and sweet iced tea are available on the website.
And now that you’re thinking about food and drinks don’t forget to choose something special to wear. People wear dress clothes and after this long spell of sweatpants, pajamas and other loose-fitting clothing, it might be nice to dress up a bit. The hat is a tradition – some wear fascinators – others a flowing, flower-bedazzled, colorful covering with floppy brims. The hat is as much about style and tradition as it is to protect the wearer from the heat and sun.
So, with not much to do on the first weekend of September in terms of significant sporting events, a Labor Day weekend with the 146th Run for the Roses gives us a reason to celebrate.
The Kentucky Oaks on Friday, Sept. 4 will also go on without fans in attendance. The Kentucky Oaks will be televised on NBCSN from 3-6 p.m. ET. NBC will televise coverage of the Derby and undercard racing on Sept. 5 from 2:30 to 7:30 p.m. ET
For those interested in betting, download the TwinSpires app, and fund the account early.
Now on to some trivia.
The first Derby I remember watching was in 1973. Secretariat won that race. In total, 19 past winners’ names began with the letter “S.”
• The Derby is called “The Run for the Roses” because the winner is awarded a blanket sewn with more than 400 roses. The blanket weighs about 40 pounds.
• The trophy weighs 3.5 pounds and is made of 14 karat gold on a jade base.
• The race was first televised in 1952.
• Post No. 1 is known as “the dreaded rail.”
• The Twin Spires at the top of the grandstands were constructed in 1895 by Joseph Dominic Baldez.
• The 1-1/4-mile race takes place on a dirt track.
• Diane Crump was the first woman jockey to ride in the Derby. Shelley Riley finished in second place in 1992.
• The Derby was started by Lewis Clark Jr., the grandson of William Clark.
• “My Old Kentucky Home” is played and everyone in attendance sings as the horses make their way from the paddock to the track.
• Only three horses competed in the 1892 race.
• All thoroughbred racehorse birthdays are noted as Jan. 1 to keep track of the bloodlines.
Now, prepare for the airing of the 146th Kentucky Derby – the first leg of the Triple Crown by pulling out your finest Spring (or Labor Day) clothing and hats, fire up the grill and chill a beverage of your liking. I invite you to party (virtually) with me like it’s 2020!