Three keys to the glamorous world of horse racing
Have you ever heard an adorable elderly person recount the “good old days,” when the world wasn’t glued to their televisions watching the Kardashians, playing simulated war games involving aliens, or in a drooling trance on the internet scrolling through endless Pinterest posts?
Well, the message they are trying to convey with their reference to the quality times of yore is that we don’t actually need to be in front of a screen to be amused; there are things out there that are fun and invigorating, time-honored social traditions that are worth investigating. Because, what qualified as good times for them can be just as good for us young whippersnappers. That, and to get off their lawn.
The world of horse racing is one of those timeless entertainment pursuits, akin to getting into a time machine, that allows you to keep your smart phone and GPS. Not much has changed over the decades with regard to the fascinating experience had by the racing patron; and this is what makes it so enjoyable, exhilarating and unique. The following is a 3-step guide to fully enjoying the enchanting sport that has captured and kept the world’s attention for hundreds of years.
1. I don’t always drink before noon, but when I do, I’m at a racetrack.
What do you do when you awake on a crisp, sunny Saturday morning? You know the type; when the day is young and full of promise, the air is fresh and just begging you to go outside and appreciate life. Do you play video games? Go shopping? Clean the house? Not if you want to keep your soul from withering before you trudge bleary-eyed and slump-shouldered back into the office on Monday morning. These precious 48 hours are your time to escape, clear your mind and regroup for another week of real grown-up life. Therefore, I heartily implore you, good citizens, young professionals of this great land: make the most of your freedom, get off the couch and take back your weekend!
Take your few hours of labor-free liberty, my friends, and spend it wisely, for time is a commodity not to be wasted on the mundane. Fortuitously for you, I am here to recommend the perfect pastime for doing just that. Take your work-weary self to the racetrack for a dose of prerace tailgating instead of wallowing around in a week’s worth of dirty laundry piled up and mocking you with the fact that it must be done. Yes, you heard me, tailgating. The more refined cousin to the beer-swilling, face-painted football pregame tradition, trackside tailgating on a beautiful day is one of the more pleasurable and relaxing activities enjoyed in the out of doors and among friends, and it is the perfect way to escape the tedious tasks otherwise occupying your time.
The scene is set: winsome weather, delectable dishes, bountiful bourbon and Bloody Marys, cornhole challenges, predictions of winning wagers and fortunes to be found, and your favorite folks all gathered in anticipation of a day at the races. It is the perfect distraction and all you have to do is show up. Take your weekend and run like you stole it.
2. Herringbone and Houndstooth and Tweed, oh my!
While we are on our journey of weekend reclamation, I must point out that it does not hurt to undertake your crusade in supreme style. This item probably should have been number one, but I didn’t want to overwhelm your senses right out of the gate (pun intended). I thought it better to ease you in with talk of a few cocktails before I unleashed upon you what some consider the single most important reason for the existence of racetracks. Sure the horses are pretty and the money is nice, but couture is king in the “Sport of Kings”, and it is best not to disappoint.
Men: Oftentimes in everyday life, your style is overlooked in favor of the flashy ensembles adorning the fairer sex. Gentlemen, this is your time to shine. A fall race meet is one of the only places where it is socially acceptable, nay encouraged, to dress like Sherlock Holmes in all of his tweedy magnificence. In the spring, it is all about suits, seersucker and pastels, but in the fall, tweed is the new black. Dust off your wool sport coat, khaki pants (flat front, I beg of you, do not disgrace this time-honored tradition with pleats), oxford shirt, brightly colored and possibly equine-themed tie (bonus points if it’s a bow tie) and a hat if you’re feeling frisky, and consequently people will be asking you who your favorite is in race four.
Women: My husband once bought a bright pink tie with tiny blue turtles embroidered on it. It was on sale, true, but even so, I gave him a healthy helping of the side-eye when I saw it. Then he explained: “I can wear it to Keeneland.” And he was right. And I understood completely, as I have myself justified many superfluous clothing purchases as “Keeneland” outfits, having lived in Lexington for many years.
The moral of that story is: when you go to the races, do it up right and add an ounce of pink-turtle-tie frivolity for good measure. This is the time to channel your inner Kate Middleton with a dash of American sass. Everyone has one, so wake her up and tell her to put on her Sunday best, because you are taking back your weekend by heading to the track. When else, aside from attendance at a British royal wedding, would you be able to wear a fascinator fit for the future Queen of England? (Do NOT, however, wear anything remotely close to the flesh-colored monstrosity Princess Beatrice had perched on her skull the day of our dear Kate’s wedding. This is America, after all. We have standards).
Because it would be understandably uncouth to show up to the track clad only in a hat, I will also tell you that in the spring and summer the typical attire is brightly colored sundresses, pastels, giant sunglasses and open toes with painted nails. In the fall it is earth tones, fall dresses, business casual, pencil skirts, wool slacks, herringbone, boots, and our old friend tweed. In short; go crazy kid; the track is your fashion smorgasbord and the perfect excuse to buy a fabulous new outfit. For direction on this important issue, one can look to the experts at www.fashionattheraces.com, a valuable resource where raceday garment guidance can be found for those wanting to go the extra fashion mile.
Lastly, ladies, I will leave you with two words of advice: 1. Do not wear heels that sacrifice comfort for height Or, in the alternative, carry a pair of flats in your purse. You will emit an audible sigh of relief when you are able to slip those babies on as your friends are teeter-tottering around grimace-faced on sore and blistered tootsies by the fifth race. 2. Skin is NOT in. Do not mistake this for Vegas simply because there is gambling afoot. Understated is the look, so girls, keep the “girls” tucked away and your hemlines where you can bend over without shooting a moon to the grandstand. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself: WWBDW (What Would Betty Draper Wear?) and take back your weekend in style.
3. Get with the Program - Where There’s a Will There's a Wager
After you’ve had your fill of mixing cocktails and mingling with friends in the morning, it will be time to relocate your weekend recovery party and actually enter the track to watch the races. Immediately upon doing so, your first stop should be to buy a program. Yes, even before you head to the bar. Do this even if you have no idea what anything inside of it means because it is an essential multipurpose tool. It will help you blend in with the race crowd and at the very least you will be able to use it to pick out horses to wager on by their names and/or the colors of their jockey’s silks (both acceptable methods). You might even start to pick up on some of the unique lingo bandied about among seasoned race goers. It will also give you something to look at between races, while you are in line for the betting window, bathroom, or beer, and will provide a decent sunshade or paper fan on hot day. If you are feeling ambitious, purchase a Daily Racing Form instead, it will provide more up-to-date information for purposes of wagering your hard-earned dollars, but do not under any circumstances hold it against any light colored clothing. Take back your weekend without newspaper smudges on your ivory wool pencil skirt.
While you are racing and repossessing your weekend from the iron grip of home-bound tedium, I also recommend you pick at least one favorite horse for each race. Do this by any means you wish, including the aforementioned name/silks method, or by closing your eyes and pointing at a number on the program page. It is important to be invested in the races, whether you are betting actual money or just wagering your pride among friends. The minute you pick a horse, your destinies have become intertwined and you will find yourself rooting emphatically for him or her like an overzealous, minivan-wielding soccer mom stalking the sidelines at a middle school soccer game. This makes the entire experience exponentially more enjoyable. You will find yourself starting to refer to the animal as your horse, as if you were the one footing the hay bill, and baby, nobody puts your horse in a corner.
However, a word to the wise: do not wait until you are actually at the betting window to ponder your pick of said favorite equine soulmate, for no matter how stylishly dressed you are, those in line behind you trying to get their bets in before post time (when the race starts) will have fire in their eyes and bourbon in their veins, and security might need to be called lest you end up underfoot of a post parade induced stampede.
So now you know the essentials, and it is time to get up, get dressed, get out into the real world of racing. Cheer loud, be merry and take your well-earned weekend freedom and let it ride.