Tips for Hosting the Perfect Kentucky Oaks Party

Party GuyTwo of the most important days of the year to a racing fan are Kentucky Oaks Friday and Kentucky Derby Saturday. And while it’s everyone’s dream to attend and be part of the festivities at Churchill Downs under the Twin Spires, the next best thing is to plan some amazing parties. While Derby Day itself should always take the most attention, there’s no reason why the Oaks can’t provide a nice warm-up to the main event.

Pink is the signature color of the Kentucky Oaks and lilies are the official Oaks flower. Fortunately they’re in season this time of year and most grocery stores are littered with fresh lilies. If not, almost any local craft store carries the silk variety. Lilies come in various colors from pink to lavender to white and all are beautiful, so mixing and blending the colors for centerpieces and table decorations can be fun.

The easiest centerpieces and table decorations can be achieved with minimal expense using plain goldfish bowls, some decorative rock and flowers. Small bowls can be found at Walmart in the pet section for less than $3 each, while the rock retails for about $2.50 for a five-pound bag. Three bowls should be sufficient for decorating any size table.

Just fill the goldfish bowls about a third full with the decorative rock and add water to near the top. Bunch enough flowers together to cover the opening of the bowl and drop them inside, stems cut long enough to be secured into the gravel. Mixing and matching lily colors can have a beautiful effect, so be creative. Even if you’re a guy, the ladies will love the effort. And remember to keep the bowls and gravel for your Derby party the next day.

Any party store, such as Party City, has a wide selection of plates and napkins in all colors, none of which are too expensive. In sticking with the Oaks colors theme, bring home some in pink and lavender and white and mix and match with the napkins. Place them in stacks on your table next to where you’ll put the food for your guests and near enough to the centerpieces to present a beautiful table.

Don’t forget the silverware. If you don’t want to use your own flatware, plastic is a suitable substitution and easily recycled when done. While plastic utensils come in a wide variety of colors as well, plain white at the local dollar store will work as well and not detract from the beautiful color palate you’ve already created.

DRINKS

The signature cocktail for the First Friday in May is called the Oaks Lily. You can either make these drinks individually or make a large batch to pour from a pitcher. All you’ll need is your Vodka of choice (a premium brand like Ketel One or Grey Goose is best), Triple Sec, sweet and sour mix, lemonade, lemons or limes and Cranberry Juice. The measurements for a single drink are:

– 1 1/4 oz. vodka
– 1 oz. lemonade
– 1 oz. sweet and sour mix
– 1/4 oz. Triple Sec
– 3 oz. cranberry juice
– squeeze of lime or lemon

Put all ingredients into a shaker and pour over a generous amount of ice and garnish with a blackberry and a lemon or lime wedge.

Always make sure you have plenty of ice on hand throughout the day to keep the beer, sodas, water and wine cold — and to make the Oaks Lilies. Nothing tastes better than an ice cold beer on Derby Day pulled right out of a cooler. If you have access to a feed store, a great tub for ice and beverages is a muck tub. They’re not terribly expensive and go well with the horsey theme of any Oaks/Derby party. They can be as inexpensive as $20 depending on where you shop for it and they can be used over and over.

Woman PartyingFOOD

A fantastic and easy recipe for an Oaks Day sandwich is ham and Swiss cheese on sweet bread rolls with Dijon honey mustard. Preparation time is minimal and they can be pre-made and popped into the oven when your guests arrive.

What you’ll need:

– 24 mini sandwich rolls (Kings Hawaiian are the best)
– 1 pound thinly sliced cooked deli ham
– 1 pound thinly sliced Swiss cheese
– 1 tablespoon dried minced onion
– 3/4 cup melted butter
– 1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
– 1 tablespoon honey
– 1 1/2 teaspoons worcestershire sauce
– 1 1/2 tablespoons poppy seeds

Preparation:

1) Grease a 9×13-inch baking dish.
2) In a bowl, mix together butter, Dijon mustard, worcestershire sauce, poppy seeds and dried onion.
3) Separate the tops from bottoms of the rolls and place the bottom pieces into the prepared baking dish
4) Layer about half the ham onto the rolls.
5) Arrange the Swiss cheese over the ham and top with remaining ham slices in a layer.
6) Place the tops of the rolls onto the sandwiches.

When your guests are about 30 minutes from being ready to eat, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and, just before putting the rolls into the oven, pour the mustard mixture evenly over the rolls. After about 20 minutes, the cheese will be melted and the tops of the rolls will be a nice golden brown. Remove from oven, slice and serve.

One of the easiest and tastiest pasta salad recipes around is a great side to the ham and swiss cheese sandwiches. What you’ll need:

– 16 oz. package uncooked rotini pasta
– 16 oz. bottle Italian salad dressing
– 2 cucumbers, chopped
– 6 tomatoes, chopped
– 1 bunch green onions, chopped
– 4 oz. grated Parmesan cheese
– 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Place pasta in the pot, cook for 8 to 12 minutes until al dente and drain.

In a large bowl, toss the cooked pasta with the Italian dressing, cucumbers, tomatoes and green onions. In a small bowl, mix the Parmesan cheese and Italian seasoning and gently mix into the salad. Cover and refrigerate until serving. This recipe tastes best if made the day before and allowed to sit overnight.

These days, grocery stores have done their best to assist us in making healthy choices, so most stores have pre-sliced carrots and celery and crudités. Pick up a selection or two, plus a pre-made ranch or vegetable dip. Lay out on a plate, or a tray with the dip in the center and a spoon to discourage the dreaded double-dipper who shows up to every party.

Don’t forget the cocktail nuts and M&Ms placed in bowls around the sitting area in front of the television, chips and salsa, potato chips and even some cereal snack mix.

Horses Rounding the Turn

GAMES

While the fun games have mostly been reserved for the boys on Derby Day, there’s no reason some of the fun and a little bit of money can’t be won on Friday with the fillies in the Oaks.

First off, challenge your guests to show their Oaks spirit and show up with the best Oaks outfit — the most floral shirt or sweater or pants or dress. Offer a prize of a $2 wager through your USRacing.com account on any horse in the Oaks or maybe a bet on the Oaks-Derby double.

Have your party guests vote on who shows the most Oaks spirit.

You can also collect $4 from every guest to pull names from a hat. The person who draws the winner of the Oaks takes home the lion’s share of the pot and the rest is divided among those who draw the second-, third- and even last-place finisher.

Most of all, have fun. This year the Oaks has burst wide open thanks — or no thanks, if you’re a fan — to the defection of Songbird. It’s expected that 14 talented and fairly evenly matched fillies will line up giving everyone a good shot to see their favorite wear the blanket of lilies after the nine-furlong test.

Margaret Ransom
California native and lifelong horsewoman Margaret Ransom is a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program. She got her start in racing working in the publicity departments at Calder Race Course and Hialeah Park, as well as in the racing office at Gulfstream Park in South Florida. She then spent six years in Lexington, KY, at BRISnet.com where she helped create and develop the company’s popular newsletters, Handicapper’s Edge and Bloodstock Journal.

After returning to California, she served six years as the Southern California news correspondent for BloodHorse, assisted in the publicity department at Santa Anita Park and and was a contributor to many other racing publications, including HorsePlayer Magazine and Trainer Magazine. She then spent seven years at HRTV and HRTV.com in various roles as researcher, programming assistant, producer and social media and marketing manager. She has also walked hots and groomed runners, worked the elite sales in Kentucky for top-class consignors and volunteers for several race horse retirement organizations, including CARMA.

Margaret’s very first Breeders’ Cup was at Hollywood Park in 1984 and she has attended more than half of the Breeders’ Cups since. She counts Holy Bull as her favorite horse of all time. She lives in Pasadena with her longtime beau, Tony, three Australian Shepherds and one Golden Retriever.