The alarm was set early at my house for the 142nd running of the 2016 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park. Laurie Ross wisely recommended an early start- avoiding traffic, getting great parking and securing a good table in The Sport of Kings were all on the agenda!
This year's Florida Derby featured the historic East Coast /West Coast battle of 2 of the country's top, undefeated 3
Mohaymenyr. olds, Mohaymen and Nyquist, but that
Nyquist-winner 2016was just the beginning!
It was time to don our finest Derby attire- a great day dress, some serious walking shoes, a clutch to hold your money, your nerves and a lipstick. Not to be forgotten, and always necessary for the Derby, a chic race-day chapeau.
Yes, it's true- we are trying to bring great millinery to the Championship Meet here in South Florida, and that includes wearing a beautiful hat to the Florida Derby! Of course it would be easy to throw on a floppy straw beach hat and some flip flops, but this is the Derby and it's nice to dress up and represent racing the way it's meant to be. It takes a little energy, a sprinkling of imagination and some effort to put together a great race-day look, but I surely promise it pays off in more ways than one!
Tickets for the Sport of Kings is your best bet on Derby Day. This is a fabulous option and a somewhat 'under the radar' venue that our fellow ThoroFan-er Annette Cobb suggested. $50 gains admittance to the Sport of Kings' buffet lunch, including soft drinks and dessert. Did I mention delicious barbecue and some of the best cornbread I've ever had?
The venue is air conditioned, and the bank of flat-screen monitors are the largest anywhere at the track. There were two large bars open for drinks, several pari-mutuel betting machines and live Tellers. The round tables were set for groups of ten, making it ideal for large parties to sit together, or to get to know fellow race goers. If your choice is to handicap races with your tablet or computer, this is the place. Because of rain off and on during the day, wilting humidity and an (almost) too hot day, we were all thrilled with this choice of locale, and it was easily the best value on the day.
Gulfstream held a hat contest at the call to post of the 8thrace. Cash and prizes were awarded, including a $750.00 award for the winner. The judges doled out cash on the spot; smart move as any Vegas casino host will tell you, give 'em the green and they'll reinvest at the betting windows!
Unfortunately, because the contest was not promoted throughout the day and there was no announcement prior to the judging, many women missed it completely. In addition, the judge Jennifer Vitrella, had no microphone and it was hard to hear anything she said or even know what was happening. Two friends missed the contest altogether. Later in the day when I went to the grandstand to watch the feature race, I saw hundreds of women in dresses and hats that easily should have been in the contest.
It was succinctly pointed out to me earlier in the day that no, this isn't Keeneland or Saratoga and not everyone is down for getting dressed up, but let's face it, a cool $750 for a nice dress and a hat? Not a bad day at the races!
It would be great if Gulfstream would expand and improve on the contest, similar to what other popular tracks do. Different categories, like best-dressed couple (a great way to get the guys in on the fun) most outrageous hat, and best overall race-day fashion look are suggestions to get fans involved.
This is not meant to be a criticism of the hat contest, but since this is the voice of the Race Fan, my observation was that this event was in sharp contrast to the sold-out, "Girl's Got Game Handicapping Challenge," sponsored by Pinnacle Racing Stables and hosted by Gulfstream Park's Nancy Berry and Mike Nyman in February. Because this event was so nicely orchestrated, I expected something comparable on Gulfstream's biggest day of racing.
The people I met during this year's Derby year will remain lifelong race friends- I sat in the grandstand for a time with a dynamic group of people from Panama who were rooting for Mohaymen. Included in the group was a retired Gulfstream jockey with his family who was so humble and gracious. They are also part of a Barbaro fan club and I now count them as my friends -and- they will be future Thorofan-ers... bonus!
The anticipation and culmination of the Championship Meet, the $1 million Florida Derby~ the dressing up, the hats, the handicapping, the rooting for your favorite horse and the camaraderie that can only be experienced live by a shared love of the sport of racing. It's makes for such a fantastic day. The world-class horses, jockeys, trainers, backstretch workers, track employees as well as the fans who bring so much passion to their sport will keep us all coming back for many years to come!
It's always a good day when you're at the races with friends!
See ya at the track,