Dave Contarino on the History Behind Kentucky Derby Traditions

Twin Spires

An avid follower of the Kentucky Derby, Dave Contarino has taken particular interest in the various traditions associated with the world’s most famous horse race. At host track Churchill Downs, Dave Contarino has witnessed quite a few thrilling finishes and fashionable parties. Below, Dave Contarino provides some valuable information about the event’s rich history.

Oceans 2003: We appreciate your time today.

Dave Contarino: I’m glad to be here.

Oceans 2003: What draws you to the Kentucky Derby?

Dave Contarino: It’s a world-class event with a wonderful sense of community among both participants and spectators. There’s simply nothing like it.

Oceans 2003: Could you explain how roses became a major part of the Derby?

Dave Contarino: The roses were first included in the Derby celebration as a beautiful adornment for the women who attended the annual party.

Oceans 2003: Interesting.

Dave Contarino: Then-president of Churchill Downs, Colonel Lewis Clark, installed the rose as the official flower for the race.

Oceans 2003: When was the rose garland bestowed upon the winners?

Dave Contarino: The rose garland made its first appearance during the 1996 edition. That year, winner Ben Brush was presented with a colorful floral arrangement of pink and white roses.

Oceans 2003: Now, let’s talk about the venue. The Twin Spires are easily recognized to any horseracing fan.

Dave Contarino: Very true. Built in 1895, the Twin Spires were drawn up and developed by Joseph Dominic Baldez.

Oceans 2003: Was he an employee of Churchill Downs?

Dave Contarino: Baldez worked as an architect and was asked to draw the blueprints for the new grandstand. However, the original plans didn’t feature the Twin Spires, but he believed that Churchill Downs needed something with a striking appearance.

Oceans 2003: Tell us about the music played during the closing ceremony.

Dave Contarino: The Stephen Foster ballad, “My Old Kentucky Home,” is featured every year after the parade.

Oceans 2003: When did the song become a Kentucky Derby staple?

Dave Contarino: Most historians believe that 1921 was the first year that the song played. In that edition, the Kentucky-bred and owned Behave Yourself won.

Oceans 2003: The most prominent feature of the Derby might be the fashion, no?

Dave Contarino: Well, the fashion at the Kentucky Derby is always eye-catching. At these parties, the attendees pull out all the stops.

Oceans 2003: Are there any standards for wardrobe?

Dave Contarino: Not really. The outfit largely depends on what activities the attendee plans to enjoy during the day.

Oceans 2003: What’s the typical fashion for women?

Dave Contarino: In all of the reserved seating areas, women wear frilly dresses, pastel-colored suits, or bold separates that coordinate with their accessories and headwear.

Oceans 2003: Which areas are reserved seating?

Dave Contarino: These areas include the corporate hospitality areas, suites, clubhouse and grandstand.

Oceans 2003: Many attendees are fascinated by the colorful sea of hats each year…

Dave Contarino: Definitely! The hat parade at the Kentucky Derby is quite fascinating. Basically there are no limits or rules in terms of selecting a Derby hat. It makes for a memorable people-watching experience.

Oceans 2003:  Thanks again for joining us.

Dave Contarino: It’s my pleasure.

Dave Contarino is a political strategist and businessman who resides in Anchorage, Kentucky.


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