The annual Kentucky Derby extravaganza starts tonight, and fans attending the races at Churchill Downs or partying from home are sporting a few very important things: the perfect mint julep, dibs on a winning horse and a fabulous Kentucky Derby hat.
Recession woes and a falling profile have taken the usually glittery Derby off the A-List this year, and the parties may not be as legendary as they were in the days of gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, whose famed article "The Kentucky Derby Is Decedent and Depraved" immortalized a boozy, anything-goes culture.
The recession has dampened spirits in Lexington, Louisville and elsewhere, forcing organizers to heed strict budgets, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.
The Grand Gala, a Louisville party that has featured stars such as Michael Jordan, Jamie Foxx and Mo'Nique since it was first held in 2002, was canceled this year, the Herald-Leader wrote.
"Every move we made was with a real budget in mind," Charla Young, Louisville event planner for the Gala, told the Kentucky newspaper.
But the Derby can still be enjoyed in style, either on the track or from home for those who couldn't actually make it to Kentucky this year.
First step: Get yourself a mint julep, the quintessential Kentucky classic that no Derby party can exist without, according to Vanity Fair's "Outsider's Derby Guide."
Kentucky bourbon company Maker's Mark has posted the "perfect" mint julep recipe.
Epicurious also has an ode to the julep, but acknowledges that the purists will tell you to skip the mint and go straight for the bourbon:
"Henry Watterson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal, whose famous recipe for the Julep still speaks to the old-fashioned Kentuckian desire for unblemished bourbon, says, 'Pluck the mint gently from its bed, just as the dew of the evening is about to form upon it. ... Prepare the simple syrup and measure out a half-tumbler of whiskey.'
"(Bourbon is a style of whiskey, after all.) 'Pour the whiskey into a well-frosted silver cup, throw the other ingredients away and drink the whiskey.'"
For something different and a little less alcoholic, try this recipe for mint julep ice cream.
Now decide who you're rooting for. ESPN has profiles of all the 2010 contenders and Horse Racing Nation is sponsoring a fan-powered online ranking, updated every 30 minutes as people vote.
Finally, know your Kentucky Derby hats: According to ESPN, "the tradition of bright colors at the Derby dates to the 19th century. But the crazy hats didn't come along until Millionaire's Row opened in the 1950s. It's then that high society women felt comfortable wearing the big hats, which were originally a sign of wealth. Like most trends, it slowly trickled down to the masses."