The Racing Fan's Uniform: Hats

Events / Travel
For racing fans, hats are a special way to support your favorite horse. (Courtesy Ariel Cooper)

Walk into a stadium for any team sport and you’ll likely find that most of the spectators are wearing the same colors. When it comes to individual sports though, how do fans show love for their favorite players?

Horse racing is particularly tricky. Each horse has its own jockey, owner and trainer. The jockeys’ silks reflect the owner of their mounts, so if Beholder and Lord Nelson (both owned by Spendthrift Farm) were in the same race no one would know you were a Beholder fan if you just wore Spendthrift Farm colors or a copy of the silks. Horses, such as California Chrome, even change owners - and as a result, silks - in the middle of their careers. Does this mean that people didn’t wear green and purple at Chrome’s Belmont Stakes? Of course not! But on a regular day, the typical fan uniform features something a little more unusual - a hat. And no, I’m not referring to the fancy hats people wear to the Kentucky Derby. I’m talking about baseball caps!

Baseball caps are frequent race day giveaways, so they’re not hard to come by. Hats are typically embroidered with the name of a racetrack, big race, or popular racehorse. Haskell Invitational hats are particularly coveted - the design changes each year, and fans eagerly display their collections at tailgates on race day. So far I have seven racing hats, and each one holds special significance for me. Here are some of my favorites:

The First Hat

I got my first hat from my best friend and fellow contributor Alexa Ravit. An avid fan since Funny Cide’s Triple Crown bid in 2003, Alexa was always eager to share horse racing with me. After her annual trip to the Kentucky Derby in 2013, she returned with a blue Kentucky Derby 139 hat. I still haven’t been to the Derby, but I proudly sported the hat around the barn, excited to feel like I was part of a sport I’d only been able to admire from a distance. Little did I know that one year later I’d find myself at my first Belmont Stakes.

Cooper and Ravit sport their Rachel Alexandra hats. (Courtesy Ariel Cooper)
The Rachel

Like Jennifer Aniston's iconic haircut, Rachel Alexandra is an obsession many female fans have in common. I never saw her race live, but it was impossible to miss the imposing bay filly with her broken blaze. My grandma gushed over Rachel, and I was furious when, while out to dinner with my family, I was the only one to recognize Rachel when she flashed across the TV screen. It was no surprise that Alexa and I immediately bonded over Rachel, but I was shocked when she came back from a “See Rachel Day” with a Rachel Alexandra hat. Roughly two years later, I wore the hat at Saratoga when her daughter, Rachel’s Valentina, won the Spinaway. There was a lot of Rachel love at The Spa that day.

Belmont Park

My Belmont Park hat was the Stars and Stripes Day giveaway in 2015. Belmont is the first racetrack I ever went to, and I’ve now been there so often I can drive there with my eyes closed. A day at Belmont is never a bad day for me. The hat itself is unremarkable, navy with the Belmont logo in white, but I’ll never forget the day I wore it to the barn while helping out at an Interscholastic Equestrian Association show. A man noticed the hat and told me that his father loved Belmont so much that they buried him with his feet facing the track when he died. Now that’s dedication!

Father/Son Hats

If you ask me who my favorite racehorses are, Tonalist will always be on the list. Tonalist was the first Belmont Stakes winner I saw live, marking my transition from casual fan to true fanatic. His familiar presence at Belmont during his 4-year-old season delighted me and, looking back, he was the first racehorse I truly fell for. When I met him after his second Jockey Club Gold Cup win, trainer Christophe Clement gave me a Tonalist hat. Popular racehorses often have hats made for them, but the only way to get one is through their connections. Needless to say my Tonalist hat is a prized possession. Tonalist is also the reason I became obsessed with his sire, Tapit, a horse whose racing career was cut short but has more than made up for it with his talented offspring. When Alexa’s mom visited Gainesway in May she returned with a Tapit hat, which I promptly photographed next to his son’s hat.

So if you want to show some love for your favorite horse, race, or racetrack, get a hat! It doesn’t even need to be fancy.

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