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How To Do Derby Day

May 02, 2018
One of our favorite sports-related trips in our catalog takes donors to the Kentucky Derby, the most famous horse race in America. It’s one of the biggest events of the sports year on its own, with people from coast to coast throwing their own Derby parties, and the added prize of the winner going for the Triple Crown (winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes) makes it that much more exciting.

You can send your supporters to the race with a couple of our non-profit fundraising auction travel packages, and with the 2018 edition just days away, we wanted to talk about what makes the race so special – the traditions. It’s one of the oldest sporting events in the country, dating back to 1875, and over that time it’s built up an interesting collection of rituals that set it apart. If you’ve got donors interested in the Kentucky Derby, here’s what they should know before your gala auction.

First, and the most visually-striking tradition, is the big hats. The Kentucky Derby took inspiration from a similar horse race in England, the Epsom Derby, and with race itself came this tradition, as Ronnie Dreistadt told U.S. News and World Report. It was also conceived as a way to help attract women to the track. Today, the hats are costume-like in nature, an important add-on for any attendee. It makes for great photos at the event, and if a donor wins one of our Derby packages, he or she can even buy and keep their own special headwear as a souvenir.

Where the National Anthem would usually be played before a sporting event, the Derby has its own. “My Old Kentucky Home” started its life as an anti-slavery song, created in the 1850s by acclaimed musician Stephen Foster (“Oh! Susanna” and “Camptown Races” are just two other of his compositions). By the 1930s, it had become a staple of the pre-race pageantry, performed by the University of Louisville marching band. If your donors are at the race, they should study the lyrics beforehand; it usually becomes a sing-a-long in the audience.

And finally, there’s no more traditional drink on the day of the Derby than the mint julep. It is so popular at Churchill Downs that in the 1930s, the racecourse started pouring them in souvenir cups, just because their regular ones were “disappearing” on race day. It’s a must-have at the track, and a must-make at home: Just combine mint simple syrup, bourbon and a splash of water. It’s great throughout the year, but it takes on a different feel while singing “My Old Kentucky Home” pre-race at the Downs.

Want to send your donor to next year’s Kentucky Derby? Let us show you how; reach out to talk with us about this or hundreds of other fundraising travel auctions.