Saturday, May 04, 2002

Locals saddle up for Derby day fun

Excited hosts hit homestretch of party planning

By Gina Holt
Enquirer Contributor

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        Sports bars, party rooms and private homes all over the country will be filled with Kentucky Derby fans wearing hats, boots and anything with a horse on it.

        “We have a big party,” said Sonia Arnold, 38, Crittenden, about 40 miles south of downtown Cincinnati. “We're expecting 75 to 80 people. Two are flying in from Alabama. Some are coming from Michigan.”

        Arnold said horse racing has always been a part of her life. Her father, David Pate of Burlington, trains the Arnolds' thoroughbreds.

        Arnold and her husband, Scooter, used to go to Churchill Downs to watch the race live but decided to have a party last year. “We put a big TV on the deck.”

        The Arnolds and their friends place bets on all the races throughout the day. Derby horses — 19 this year — are auctioned off.

        Arnold said people will show up wearing papier-mache hats, cowboy hats, boots and other Derby paraphernalia. She also provides official Derby programs and a Derby drink.

        Paul Knight, a 1979 English graduate from the University of Kentucky, will watch the Kentucky Derby in Seattle with the Seattle chapter of the UK Alumni Club.

        Knight,originally from Paducah, said others are invited to attend because the club just started and there are only about eight members.

        “We opened it up to University of Kentucky alumni, people from Kentucky and anybody who knows where Kentucky is,” Knight said. “We expect about 40 people.”

        He said it would probably be a larger group but the Kentucky Derby is the same day as opening day of yacht season in Seattle.

        “That's a conflict here.”

        Knight said finding horse decor in Seattle was not an easy task. “We've ordered decorations from Lexington.”

        He said it will also be a diverse group. “We're going to have people from the ages 22 to 72.”

        Pat Golden, a 64-year-old retired teacher from Goshen, Ohio, will gather with the Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati chapters of the UK Alumni Club at Turfway Park in Florence to watch the race on simulcast. There are 23 UK alumni chapters throughout the United States that have Derby parties.

        “It's a way for us to get together and have fun,” Golden said. Guests will show up in their Derby gear, the reserved room will be decorated with horse paraphernalia and Derby pie will be served for dessert.

        Californians Kathy and Art Cook are expecting about 100 people at their Derby party.

        “Derby attire or picnic wear was requested,” said Kathy Cook, 52, adding she will serve mint juleps and Kentucky burgoo.

        Burgoo is a stew of vegetables and game meats that has become a Derby tradition. It is thought to have been created by Civil War Gen. John Hunt Morgan's troops as they trekked across Kentucky and is served at concession stands at the Derby.

        “We hope to see a few great Derby hats. We have some artwork that is Derby-related. We will probably place some of it on picnic tables and around the patio. The tiki torches will have Derby hats on display until dark when they will be used for lighting.

        “It is a great opportunity to spend time with friends, neighbors, and family. We will have guests from Florida that have never been to a Derby party. We want to show them what Kentucky tradition is all about,” Cook said.

        Sal Gonzalez, a 26-year-old jockey who won't be riding on Derby day, said he won't attend a party.

        “I just go home and watch it on TV,” said Gonzalez, of Louisville. “I just stay out of everybody's way. I might have friends over for a barbeque.”

        He said it is exciting to watch and see the outcome but he and the other jockeys not riding look forward to it being over. “We wait for the Derby to go by so we can start riding our horses and hope to do a little bit better.”

        Turfway Park is expecting about 3,000 to 5,000 people, said Jennifer Haas, media relations manager for the racetrack. “It's in our top five days of the year, including our live racing season.”

        Bev Cox, party and paper supply buyer at Party Source in Florence, said sales have increased this week. “We sell all the official Derby stuff, glasses, napkins, plates, horse balloons, fresh mint, julep syrup,” she said. “We sell plastic jockey hats, travel mugs and plenty of alcohol. We do sell horse masks.”

        She said sales increase every year. “I've doubled my sales of glasses from last year.”

        Kentuckians aren't the only Derby shoppers though. “I had a customer call from Colorado and I had to ship stuff out to her for her party,” Cox said.


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