Kentucky Derby 2013: Ranking the Best Traditions in the Run for the Roses

Jessica Paquette@jmpaquetteFeatured ColumnistApril 28, 2013

Kentucky Derby 2013: Ranking the Best Traditions in the Run for the Roses

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    With 138 editions of the Kentucky Derby already in the record book, the Run for the Roses ranks as the oldest continuously run sporting event in America since it first began in 1875.

    With over a century worth of history, the Derby remains a timeless hallmark of spring and is regarded as a great American tradition. Over the course of the Derby’s illustrious history, many customs have become synonymous with the first Saturday in May. 

    Though horse racing is known as "the Sport of Kings," you do not have to be royalty to celebrate the Kentucky Derby. The Derby offers something for everyone, whether you want to put on your finest hat in Millionaires Row or sip a mint julep in the infield.

    Here is a look at some of the best traditions the greatest two minutes in sports has to offer.

5. Roses

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    Dubbed “the Run for the Roses,” the famous garland of roses that is draped across the powerful back of the victor is horse racing’s equivalent to the green jacket presented to golf’s Masters champion.

    Everyone in the sport dreams of that moment, and a precious few actually get to experience that fantasy. In January every year, it is often joked that every trainer with a halfway promising three-year-old is "smelling roses" every morning. 

    Though the origin of who actually came up with the idea of the blanket of roses is not entirely clear, the tradition has held steady for nearly a century and officially became the flower of the Kentucky Derby in 1904. 

4. The Infield Celebration

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    In the box seats of Churchill Downs, some of the most popular celebrities, dignitaries and athletes will enjoy their Derby experience on the legendary "Millionaires Row."

    While those exclusive box seats do offer some of the best views of the race, some of the most fun to be had is in the infield. In the infield, it is a raucous party on Derby day, and though a lot of revelers trade in their formal hats and seersucker suits, the mint juleps (and beer) flow freely.

    While the infield is known for being a rambunctious party of a lifetime, the Kentucky Derby is truly an experience for everyone, and the opposite end of the infield encourages a family-friendly picnic atmosphere. 

    Though the infield spectators rarely see a live horse, the infield experience is an exuberant, celebratory one regardless of who actually wins the race. 

3. Fancy Hats

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    The only things bigger than the race itself are the hats.

    Men and women alike will don their finest headwear to celebrate Kentucky Derby day. At the inception of the race, it was expected that men and women would wear hats to such a special event.

    These days, people have embraced the pageantry and history of the Derby and wear elaborate, ornate hats as a fashion statement and a nod to the past. Some people opt to add a sense of humor to their choice of hat as well, crafting novel, sometimes silly creations of their own. 

    Every year, the Kentucky Derby Museum holds a Kentucky Derby hat competition with prizes awarded to the most creative as well as the most beautiful hat. 

2. The Mint Julep

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    Just like a Fenway Frank is part of the Red Sox experience, no Kentucky Derby party is complete without their trademark cocktail, the mint julep. Since 1938, the mint julep has been the official drink of the Kentucky Derby.

    Though many people have variations on the recipe, the basic ingredients remain the same: mint, sugar, spring water, crushed ice and, of course, Kentucky Bourbon. 

    For those with more expensive tastes, bourbon maker Woodford Reserve offers an exclusive $1,000 mint julep with proceeds to benefit equine-related charities. 

1. "My Old Kentucky Home"

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    While the Derby is full of history and tradition, there are none that rival the powerful moment when the band begins to play “My Old Kentucky Home” as the horses step onto the track for their date with destiny.

    The lyrics echo throughout Churchill Downs under the iconic twin spires. By the final lyrics, there is rarely a dry eye to be found. 

    One of the most moving moments of the day is often watching the jockeys drop their steely facade for a moment and wipe away a tear before putting their game faces on and race for their place in history.