So it wasn’t the infield at Churchill Downs. The folks who trekked to BREC’s Farr Park Equestrian Center in Baton Rouge for a Derby Day viewing party on Saturday had a fine time anyway.
The park’s indoor arena, usually filled with livestock for rodeos, hosted a crowd donned in the derby staples — brightly colored hats and dresses, as well as suits adorned with bow ties. Of course, no derby party could be complete without mint juleps and red roses, long-standing traditions of the race that BREC organizers were sure to include for Derby Day.
“You start with the hat and then dress accordingly,” Penny Starkey, of Baton Rouge, said about choosing a woman’s derby outfit.
She wore a wide-brimmed, black hat purchased shortly before the race, accentuated with a black and white dress. She said light sundresses and big hats are perfect to keep cool under the sun while attending races.
The sun wasn’t an issue under the covered arena, so the outfits were less about practicality and more about looking the part.
The gentlemen, too, dressed for the occasion. Jeff Smith, of Gonzales, and Alan Maltbie, of Baton Rouge, sported almost identical seersucker suits and colorful bow ties, an outfit often seen at horse races.
“It’s on our bucket list to go to the Kentucky Derby,” said Patsy Smith, Jeff’s wife.
The couple said Derby Day was a warmup for trekking to Louisville, Kentucky, next year.
Patsy Smith put bright red roses — the official flower of the derby — around the brim of her hat as decoration. Her creativity was enough to put her among the top three in the hat-judging contest.
A host of competitions and games preceded the race, like a bugling contest, where participants tried their best to mimic the “first call,” a signal heard minutes before a horse race begins.
A cluster of tables circled around a screen where the race was broadcast. American Pharaoh, the favorite to win the race, was indeed the winning horse.
Participants were given tickets with different horse names upon entering the Farr Park arena, and those who drew the winning horse were given prizes.
For BREC employees, the event was a way to showcase the Farr Park facility to a certain segment of Baton Rouge residents.
Melissa Wood, the manager of Farr Park, said Saturday’s event was the first of its kind at the equestrian park.
“We really wanted to reach out to the adult population,” she said.”We’ve never reached out to them in the parish to have them come out to our park like this.”
Wood said Farr Park events usually consist of programs aimed at children. She said she hopes the exposure to the facility will increase visitors of all ages to the park.
Reggie and Harriet Coco are familiar with Farr Park because their daughter, Claire Coco, is a BREC employee. They said they attended the event because it gave them a chance to dress up and to support Farr Park and BREC.
“We hope this event occurs every year in Baton Rouge,” Reggie Coco said.
Claire Coco, who’s been riding horses since childhood, said the idea of hosting a Derby Day party has been bandied about for some time.
“I’m so excited because I always wanted to attend a Derby party,” Coco said.
Patricia Starkey said she’ll be back next year if BREC holds another Derby Day.
“I’m excited to see Baton Rouge do this,” she said. “Next year, when we know we have more time, we’ll go shopping for much more elaborate outfits.”