How to Throw the Ultimate Breeders’ Cup Watch Party

Events / Travel
A horse trains in preparation for the 2015 Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland. (Eclipse Sportswire)

This year’s Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland Race Course will be unlike any other: in addition to offering world-class racing, it’s going to be an at-home affair for all racing fans this year due to the ongoing pandemic. That means that you have a chance to get really creative with your Breeders’ Cup viewing party, whether it’s held over Zoom or with a socially-distanced get-together in the back yard. Need a little inspiration? We’re here to help!

The Décor

Keeneland's gift shop. (Coady Photography)

Purple and gold are the official colors of the Breeders’ Cup, and forest green is Keeneland’s signature hue; that provides a nice jumping off point for your decorating needs. First off, consider the Breeders’ Cup shop as a one-stop place for your party needs. From mugs to rocks glasses and more, the collection is a great way to show your BC pride in the Bluegrass.  Another great option is the Keeneland shop; it’s one of the great racetrack gift shops I’ve ever encountered, and they have a huge selection of home goods that will serve your racing viewing party needs for years to come.

Looking for something a little less permanent? These racing-themed paper plates and napkins are perfect for a Breeders’ Cup party. I’m also very partial to these jockey silks cocktail napkins, as well as these Thoroughbred popcorn holders. These plastic julep cups will be perfect for housing the bourbon cocktail of your choice, and a racehorse pennant banner is the ultimate Zoom party backdrop.

The Food

Keeneland's burgoo. (ABR Photo)

Keeneland has some food that’s not only legendary in racing circles, it’s pretty easy to recreate at home, too! Here are some ideas inspired by the tracks’ beloved offerings, plus a few others that I think would work nicely for your viewing party.

Keeneland Burgoo

A hearty stew that’s perfect for fall, burgoo is deceptively easy to make despite its lengthy ingredients list. Kathy Miller Time has a great copycat recipe based on Keeneland’s classic.

Mini hot brown tarts

While the hot brown originated in Louisville, not Lexington, it’s still a quintessentially Kentucky food. Spicy Southern Kitchen helps you make the iconic sandwiches party-ready by switching the bread for mini tart shells for ultimate snackability.

Benedictine Dip

The Spruce Eats is here with a great recipe for this easy and delicious traditional Kentucky dip that’s perfect for a party.

Beer cheese

The first time I tried beer cheese, I was holed up at a dive bar in a small Kentucky town called Millville. When it was offered, I figured I’d try it because it would be so gross as to make a great story. Was I ever wrong: tangy and rich, it’s a great snack and perfect for watching races on TV. Let Smitten Kitchen be your guide to making this instantly addictive dip. 

Keeneland bread pudding

This is a stick-to-your-ribs dessert (and the bourbon sauce will possibly make you tipsy!) and it’s so, so good. I can see breaking this recipe from Food.com up into a cupcake pan to bake and making personal servings for a viewing party! Just don’t with the strawberries if you want to stick to the Keeneland recipe.

Bourbon Balls

Want your dessert and your digestif combined into bite-size form? Enter the bourbon ball, a delightful treat that’s heavy on both the booze and sugar. Check out Tasting Table for an easy recipe that packs a bourbon-y punch.

Classic oatmeal cookie. (Wikimedia Commons)

Oatmeal cookies, but more complicated than this actual recipe because I’m difficult that way

I love oatmeal cookies, and I feel like they’re perfect for watching horse races because they have strong sweet feed energy. I love this recipe from Kitchn, but over the years I’ve tweaked it a little bit. Before we get to those changes, an important note: when the recipe tells you to pre-toast the oatmeal: do it. It adds so much dimension to the cookies, and you’ll be glad you did. Now the tweaks: instead of softened butter, brown your butter and let it solidify back to room temperature; it’s a big extra step and it takes a long time, but the flavor you get from this is indescribably good. Pro tip: when you’re transferring your butter from the saucepan to cool, put it in a Pyrex measuring cup and add more butter to it until you get back to a full cup. A lot of water evaporates through the browning process. Finally, the recipe calls for raisins. They are the devil’s candy and are to be avoided at all costs; replace with dried cranberries and chopped chocolate and you’re in for a good time.

The Cocktails

Maker's Mark bourbon. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Bourbon is going to be your go-to here; after all, the only true bourbon comes out of Kentucky, so you’ll be supporting Lexington-area businesses as you imbibe! The official bourbon of the Breeders’ Cup is Maker’s Mark, and they even have a cool commemorative bottle just in time for the world championships. Here are a few cocktail recipes to check out for your Breeders’ Cup watch party:

The Torrie Cup

One of the official cocktails of the Breeders’ Cup, the Torrie Cup is a mix of bourbon, sweet vermouth, orange juice, and lemonade. It’s the perfect mix of refreshing and potent!

Maple Old Fashioned

The perfect meld of fall flavors and Kentucky bourbon, the maple old fashioned puts an autumnal twist on a classic cocktail.

Hot Toddy

If you’re having people over and staying safe outside, consider a hot toddy for a warming cocktail. They’re delicious, warming, and right on-theme for the Breeders’ Cup.

Ale 8 One

Provide for the non-drinkers, designated drivers, and kids with some Ale 8 One, the official soft drink of the Bluegrass State. It’s a soda conceived of and wildly popular in Kentucky, and it’s kind of like if a ginger ale and a Sprite had a baby. Which is to say: it’s really good! (Also, you can mix it with your bourbon if you so choose. That’s good, too!)

West Sixth Brewing Company

My friend and colleague Greg recommends the offerings from this Lexington-based microbrewery; it can be hard to find outside of Kentucky and Ohio, but I have intel that’s spied it as far as Chicago. If you can get your hands on some of this very tasty brew, be sure to have it for your viewing party for the authentic Lexington experience.

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