Churchill Downs is about 2,100 miles from Los Angeles, depending on the scenic route you take and the road stops you make.
But watching a SoCal-based spectator in a mega-brimmed hat jump up, up, up over one of the world's fastest and most famous events would lead one to believe that the Louisville-based track is just a quick jaunt from downtown LA.
The Kentucky Derby boasts many California fans, people who are not content to catch the pony action on the dial but want to go bigger. Much bigger, as in donning the flowery chapeaux associated with the crowd and finding a place broadcasting the race.
A place serving mint juleps, of course, the de rigeur drink of the early-May occasion. Want to leap in place over Keen Ice, International Star, Bolo, and all of the major manes of the Kentucky Derby? Find the biggest, over-the-top-iest hat you can, circle Saturday, May 2 on the calendar, and trot for ...
Santa Anita Park: The historic venue will be throwing "the biggest Derby party west of the Mississippi," they say, and there are as many packages to choose from as roses in a winner's wreath (OK, maybe not *quite* that many, but there are several). The Chandelier Room is having the day's poshest to-do, but you can go trackside for fifteen bucks.
Baltaire: Bow ties will be part of the sartorial scene, as will traditional Hot Brown Sandwiches (a filling meal that started at Louisville's venerable Brown Hotel). As for juleps? They'll be on the pour at the Brentwood restaurant. Careful biting into your sammie, though, with the tall cap atop your noggin. Maybe some pins or barrettes will keep your hat in place?
Shade Hotel: It's the first pony party for this recently debuted Manhattan Beach stay-over, and "derby-inspired cocktails" plus juleps are on the menu, as well as small plates. Is attire appropriate to the event requested? You bet, and those track-style toppers, in the form of fabulous hats, too.
What to do, where to go and what to see
The Independence: Juleps, being as minty and as a deep-toned as they are, are ripe for interesting spins on classic ingredients. You can find such a spin in the Bernheim Bugler, the julep-esque sip that'll be frosting up glasses during the Kentucky Derby at this Santa Monica tavern. Like banana bitters and apricot liqueur? You're in luck, libation-loving adventurers. You're also in luck if you want to sip it while watching "The Greatest Two Minutes in Sports" -- it'll be up on the flat-screen TVs.