Kentucky Oaks: Ladies First!

via Kentucky Oaks.
Everyone who's spent any time in Louisville knows that Oaks Day is the holiday that locals claim as their own.  The Derby may generate millions in tourist revenue and draw international attention for its high-profile guestlist, but the Oaks is the laid-back race for Louisvillians.
via Kentucky Oaks.

Every year, on the day before the Derby, Churchill Downs holds a Grade I race for thoroughbred fillies. In recent years, this race for female horses has become a celebration of female race-goers.  The race has taken on a "pink-out" theme, serving as a fundraiser for various cancer charities, decorating the track in pink, and encouraging the race-goers to wear pink as well.  Even the cocktails are pink; the signature Oaks Lily cocktail takes a pinkish hue from cranberry juice and sour mix.
via Kentucky Oaks.
This year's Oaks drew a near-record crowd of over 112,000 people.  A portion of attendance revenue ($1/ attendee) was donated to cancer charities, as was a portion of all Oaks Lily sales.  This year, Churchill Downs partnered with Stand Up to Cancer and Horses and Hope, an initiative to promote breast cancer awareness, screening, and treatment among Kentucky's horse industry workers and their families. 

With pink decorations and drinks and a field of fillies racing, the Oaks certainly lives up to its motto "Ladies First."  This year, the 138th running, certainly embodied that motto, as Rosie Napravnik became the first female jockey to win the race.

Pretty cocktails, fundraising and a healthy dose of girl power -- that sounds like a very HerKentucky event indeed!

What's the Big Deal about Derby Festival?

Image via Kentucky Derby Festival.
I'd been living in Louisville for a couple of months when April rolled around. Suddenly, the questions started coming from colleagues and clients:

"What are you doing for Thunder?"
"Have you eaten at the Chow Wagon yet?"
"Have you bought your Pegasus pin?"

Now, before I moved to Louisville, I thought I knew Derby.  I'd been to the race itself, of course.  I even knew that Louisvillians considered Oaks to be THE must-see race rather than its next day Big Brother.  But the Derby Festival events left me perplexed.  I knew I'd seen framed posters for Festivals past; they're inescapable in offices and family rooms in the Louisville Metro area.  Still, I had no idea what the events entailed.  Why would I wear a $3 lapel pin from Kroger? Is a Chow Wagon more appetizing than it sounds? And Thunder is just a bunch of fireworks, right?

After living through that Derby season, I learned that Derby Festival is one of those events that separates true Louisvillians from visitors.  The Pegasus pin is not only a key to admission at the Festival's events; it's symbolic of  a fourteen-day celebration of the Derby City itself.   Before Louisville becomes overrun with celebs and race enthusiasts, it fetes its own natives with steamboat races, parades, concerts, and fireworks.  It's a two-week party that unites Louisvillians from a variety of backgrounds and interests.
Image via Thunder Over Louisville
By the following April, I was far better-versed in Derby Festival events.  When Thunder Over Louisville kicked off the season, I knew that the private parties in downtown office buildings were a more comfortable and enjoyable alternative to mingling with the massive crowds that congregate for the fireworks show.   Since my beau and I aren't much for big, rowdy crowds or fireworks, we learned to time our dinner reservations to avoid the Thunder madness.  We even found that we could watch a good bit of the fireworks display from our Highlands condo.  As we fell into a few Derby Festival routines of our own -- Oaks brunches, the Chow Wagon, cocktails at the Seelbach -- we found that we weren't just celebrating the Greatest of all Horse Races.  We were celebrating the fact that Louisville is a great place to live.

Have y'all attended any Derby Festival events?