A Wine Dinner on the Road to the Kentucky Derby

kentucky derbyHardly anything is just what it is anymore.

My apologies if that observation sounds like a cross between Mark Twain and Yogi Berra, but here’s what I mean…

The Super Bowl isn’t just a football game to crown a champion. It’s a corporate marketing event spanning more than a week, packed with parties, receptions, dinners and more.

Wrestlemania isn’t just the WWE’s biggest wrestling — excuse me, make that sports entertainment — event of the year. It’s a full week of activities for fans, including interactive activities, autograph sessions, a hall of fame induction ceremony, satellite events conducted by other rasslin’ groups and more.

Today, many people aren’t as interested in events as they are in experiences. And if the experience is something they really, really covet, they’re willing to pay for it.

Which brings us to the most famous horse race of them all, the Kentucky Derby, which will be conducted for the 141st time tomorrow afternoon at Churchill Downs.

For most of its existence, the Kentucky Derby was, first and foremost, a prestigious horse race. It also provided an opportunity for well-heeled attendees to flaunt their new spring outfits. And it simply wasn’t proper to view the race without a Mint Julep in hand.

For many television viewers, if they watch just one horse race each year, the Kentucky Derby is it.

Some years ago, however, the Derby began to evolve from a horse race into an event. It began innocently enough in 2006 with the introduction of a new “official cocktail of the Kentucky Oaks” at Churchill Downs — the Grey Goose Oaks Lily. The goal was to create a more feminine libation, and three years later, an agreement was made to donate $1 from each Oaks Lily sold to breast cancer research.

Now, there is a whole series of events under the umbrella, “Road to the Kentucky Derby” — including a wine dinner held last night at the Kentucky Exposition Center.

Dubbed “Taste of the Derby,” it brought together nationally renowned chefs from all parts of the country where horse racing is conducted. They crafted signature regional dishes for the lucky attendees, who washed it all down with specially selected wines.

Horse racing and a wine dinner? It makes perfect sense when the goal is to transform a race into an event.

Which leads me to the question I know you’ve been wanting to ask: Which horse am I picking in tomorrow’s Derby? I could ask my future father-in-law, who is a pretty fair handicapper, but where’s the fun in that?

As an uninformed hunch better and unabashed wine lover, I’ve gotta go with Toasting Master.

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