The 137th running of the Kentucky Derby will take place at Churchill Downs in Louisville on May 7.
It's always the first Saturday in May.
Sometimes it's cold enough to snow. Sometimes it's hot enough to melt. I know, I've been there for both.
Nearly everybody in Kentucky celebrates Derby. Some just celebrate it more than others.
Two groups that do up the Derby are the Kentucky Society of Washington and the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels (of which I am a member).
Naturally, the Society has its Derby event in Far Eastern Kentucky, i.e., Alexandria, Virginia. Its 30th Annual 'Pre-Kentucky Derby Party' will be held on Saturday, April 30, 2011, from 1 PM- 5 PM, on the grounds of the Collingwood Estate.
The theme, "Celebrating Three Decades of Kentucky Hospitality in Our Nation's Capital" recognizes an event that started in a backyard with about 75 people and has since become a highlight of Washington’s spring social season.
On that day, more than 1,000 Kentuckians and their guests will gather in their favorite Derby attire, sip mint juleps, listen to Bluegrass music and soak up the Southern surroundings accented with red roses and Kentucky mementos.
Kentucky Society members prepare much of the party's menu themselves, emphasizing traditional Kentucky fare such as burgoo, country ham, beaten biscuits and derby squares.
"Our party has established itself as Washington’s very special kick-off to Derby week," said 2011 Society President and University of Kentucky graduate, Winn Williams. "It’s like a day at the races, except our version is on the banks of the Potomac!"
On Derby weekend itself the Colonels kick in. (No doubt most Society members are Colonels as well.) The Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels has two events, one for Friday's Kentucky Oaks ($340) and the other for Derby on Saturday ($595). Each is an all-day private party at the Kentucky Derby Museum (adjacent to the track), plus a reserved track seat for the day.
All Colonels in good standing may purchase up to ten tickets.
The rank of Kentucky Colonel goes back to 1813. Originally, they were aides to the governor and evolved into his personal entourage. Colonels took the title seriously and commissions were for life. In the 1920s, a movement began to convert the group into something more like a charity and the name Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels was adopted.
According to the official history of the Honorable Order, "Minutes of the early meetings confirm that charitable programs were to be a central part of the organization. Social events would also play an important role. The group held a Derby Eve dinner for the first time in 1932."
Contemporary Colonels are encouraged to donate to the Honorable Order's Good Works Program, which gives grants to worthy causes such as hunger programs and hospitals. An annual donation makes you a Colonel in good standing and entitles you to buy tickets to events like the Oaks and Derby parties, and the Colonels BBQ, which will take place on Sunday, May 8, in Bardstown.
Colonel Sanders was a Kentucky Colonel. So were E. H. Taylor, Jim Beam, and most Kentucky bourbon makers, then and now. I'm a Kentucky Colonel, commissioned by Governor Paul Patton in 1997.
And I make a pretty good mint julep.