Who wears a suit to a sporting event?
Coaches, parents who just finished work and are taking their kid to a game, and douchebags.
The third category gathers en masse at the Kentucky Derby.
For eight guys in town for a bachelor party, there was only one option: Embrace it and revel in it.
Degenerate gambler track suits or gorilla masks? If only they didn’t violate the dress code.
Bow ties? If you could find one.
Yes, the Kentucky Derby experience at Churchill Downs is epic, and it has almost nothing to do with the “sporting event” going on.
It’s an all-day spectacle that follows a simple pattern: two minutes of racing — of which you see maybe 10 seconds of it — and then a 45-minute break to place your bets on the next race.
That leaves plenty of down time, which likely explains why a majority of the Derby’s 160,000-plus attendees devote so much effort to finding the right suit, dress, hat or costume to wear. About 97 percent of the time you’re at the horse races, no horses are racing. Your options to pass the time are limited to: A.) Admire each other’s over-the-top attire; or B.) Indulge on mint juleps — the Derby’s signature beverage.
It’s an experience like nothing I’ve ever witnessed before. In 11 years as a professional sportswriter I’ve encountered nothing like it, and that includes NFL games, college football and the NCAA Tournament, among others.
The Kentucky Derby is as big as a NASCAR event, but with a much different dress code and demographic. So much of the event is about flaunting wealth — or pretending to have it.
If the attire isn’t enough to scream “elitist” or “wannabe elitist,” the beverage of choice serves as the cherry on top. Sure, you see a few people sipping on beers, but at Churchill Downs they serve mint juleps in a glass. Not some fancy plastic souvenir cup. Actual breakable glass.
When reflecting on the Kentucky Derby, very little that sticks out in my mind involves the races. Sure, I have a few losing betting slips to commemorate my time at Churchill Downs, but nothing about any of the races stands out other than Kevin correctly betting on the winning horse.
What sticks out is the spectacle around the event: the Southern hospitality; the beautiful women in their fancy hats; the little old men slicked up in suits; the young 30-somethings like us that dressed like total d-bags trying to fit in.
Was the Kentucky Derby a blast? Absolutely.
Would I go back? I’m not sure.
As for souvenirs, I’ll always cherish some of the photos that captured an event like nothing I’ve ever experienced, and I have a nice set of souvenir glasses from a day spent sipping on tasty mint juleps.
And then there’s that seersucker suit.
I last wore a suit to a sporting event as a high school basketball manager. It was a wool, navy blue pinstripe suit. I still have it, and I refused to bring it to the Derby. Darin found a seersucker for $60 at a thrift store, and we thought it would be close enough to my size. It fit perfectly.
Plus, it was surprisingly comfortable. If I had any need to wear a suit on a regular basis, I might actually consider wearing it.
Which brings me back to my original point. Who wears a suit to a sporting event? Coaches, definitely. The same goes for parents juggling their time between work and their children.
But douchebags? In our case, absolutely, and we were proud of it.
Still, I must admit that seersucker was darn comfortable. After two hours of light drizzle, it dried right out. When the temperature rose, it felt cool and cozy.
In hindsight, maybe I was too quick to judge.
Besides, the Derby’s not really a “sporting event” anyway (When at least 90 percent of those in attendance clearly spent more time researching their wardrobe than the horses in the race, it ceases to be a sporting event in my opinion). It’s just a fashion show with a few horse races mixed in for a change of pace.