why i go to the fair grounds on derby day? HATS, mostly.
Hats, Hats, and... More Hats
I've gone to the Louisiana Derby, the last big racing day of the season at the Crescent City's Fair Grounds Race Course in Faubourg St. John (after which prep begins for the city's annual Jazz & Heritage Festival, held here pretty much forever) every years since 2007, I believe. Maybe I skipped one year due to rain? I'm thinking no, but you never can tell. In any case, it's not quite the Kentucky Derby, and the Thanksgiving Day opening here can be more hat-intensive. I've never made it to opening day, though, since Turkey Day is big with the family instead.
Alright, the basics: I have gone with my friend Cindy every time. It was she who invited me to the track first, after I'd moved to the city in the post-Katrina era, in 2006. She did this after meeting me a party at a former colleague's house, and learning that I'd found whole equestrian scene in Aiken SC fascinating, when living nearby in Augusta GA--just across the Savannah River from S.C., actually, in the city's Olde Town section. It took me about as long to get to Aiken as it took me to get to Augusta's newer big box stores. What I'd loved more than anything was Aiken's annual Spring Steeplechase, held around the same time as the Louisiana Derby. This event, and younger fall steeplechase, have a tailgating culture to rival any place's in southern football.
The Derby in New Orleans doesn't consume the town in the same way, exactly. There is thoroughbred racing from Thanksgiving until the spring, after all, and other sorts of racing in between. Ostrich racing, camel, quarter horse racing, and so on. But damned if it doesn't bring out the hats and finery, and also some oddities and things that make you wonder in all manner of ways. This is not typical Tourist New Orleans, or the Mardi Gras New Orleans, but it has plenty of theater.
The first hat-wearer I followed around just a bit was this woman, with a giant horse's head on her head. These were an especially big thing this year, it appeared.
I mean, look at this headgear, and the lady's entire outfit. After taking this photo, I leaned in closer, just to get the butterflies at close range with my macro/portrait lens. I then told the woman that I'd taken her shot, hoped that was OK, and that I'd had to get in close to get the butterflies, as one would when taking close-up shots of flowers. She laughed, whereupon she turned around, and I saw a butterfly necklace bordering her butterfly dress. Also she as sporting at least temporary butterfly tattoos. Or were they temporary? I have no idea.
Then, the Horsies
Just for the record, the winner this year was Girvin, who will be racing in the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville on Saturday, May 6. He should be a favorite. In an article in the Times-Picayune the day after the New Orleans race, the three-year-old was described as "precocious" and "classy."