What is it about the Run for the Roses that gets Denverites all worked up? It's a sport almost no one follows, contested for a mere two minutes once a year, and celebrated with all sorts of archaic, prickly and potentially problematic traditions. But let's not dwell on any of that — because nowadays, the Kentucky Derby just means dressing up and getting drunk on bourbon (though we're not sure why anyone needs a dedicated day for that). But if that's your jam (or even if you steadfastly — though unconvincingly — maintain that you celebrate because the animals are so majestic), here are a few events to consider for the big day, May 5.
Horse and Saddle Sale
Douglas County Fairgrounds
Get a horse of your own at prices considerably less than you'd pay for a Derby winner — and at a considerably less snooty auction. Over a hundred mares, geldings, stallions and ponies will be up for auction in Castle Rock on Saturday, so in lieu of staring at animals on a TV screen after you've had too much to drink, take a quick road trip and admire them in person before you've had too much to drink. While we'd never seriously encourage the impulsive purchase of an animal — especially a half-ton one that can't be kept in a city apartment — a close-up look at real live equines will give you a better appreciation of those running the race. Visit the Horse Creek Sale Co. website for sale details and catalogue previews.
Derby Day with Union Station
Noon to 5 p.m.
So you want to celebrate the day in style but don't want to spend a fortune to do it. Check out Union Station's free party: With mint julep specials and live jazz on the Terminal Bar's patio, you'll still be able to binge on bourbon while you wait for the race to be broadcast in the Great Hall. And don't skimp on your outfit, either: The best-dressed man and woman will receive $250 gift cards to Union Station (they might just break even after buying all that linen), and the best-dressed couple will get a free night's stay at the Crawford Hotel. Union Station Denver has the details on the free event, and if you love the space but can't handle the hoi polloi, the Cooper Lounge is offering a VIP event from 3 to 5 p.m. for $100; make your reservation by calling the bar at 720-460-3738.
Denver Derby Party
1 to 6:30 p.m.
Denver Performing Arts Complex
This is the granddaddy of ’em all (and comes with a price tag to match). Four blocks of downtown Denver will be given over to the biggest hats, the highest heels and the most pastel of suits for one afternoon. Tickets are almost as much as a plane ticket to the Bluegrass State ($150 or $300) but include an open bar, food from nearly twenty vendors, live entertainment and an infinite number of opportunities to plaster your face all over Instagram. Visit the Denver Derby website for fashion inspo and ticket sales.
Denver Mini Derby
1 to 6 p.m.
While the Kentucky Derby boasts fine-boned, long-legged beasts, out west we do things a bit differently. Witness the Denver Mini Derby, where the shorter the legs, the better the race. While other attendees may pretend to be interested in the real thing, we know you're really showing up for the Corgi and miniature horse races. No, the stubby competitors won't be spurred on by tiny jockeys, but they will give it their all — waddling furiously down the track — while spectators wager to benefit local nonprofits Minds Matter of Denver, Cherry Arts, Kids' Compassion Project and Equine 808 Horse Rescue. Tickets run $109 to $169 at Denver Mini Derby's website.
Derby Day with St. Julien
2 to 5 p.m.
St Julien Hotel & Spa
If there was ever a town you'd expect to be adamantly opposed to a sporting event in which nervous horses hauling ass down a muddy track are whipped by tiny men and women, it's Boulder. But apparently the lure of Southern tradition is irresistible no matter where you live, as Denver's northern neighbors have their own share of Derby Day events. This free party includes a hat contest and music by the aptly named Good Manners Quartet. For a Colorado take on the day, get an early hike in, then avail yourself of a massage at the hotel's spa (pretend you're a thoroughbred getting rubbed down before the race). Visit the St Julien website for more information on all the offerings that day.