Concessions at Oaklawn Park are just one way to go for food and drink if you are planning to watch - in person or on television - the big Kentucky Derby prep races this weekend. (Photo by Eclipse Sportswire)
On April 12, the 11th races at both Oaklawn Park and Keeneland Race Course will all but conclude the road to the Kentucky Derby. The last of the big points will be awarded to Derby hopefuls this Saturday.
I eagerly scoured the entries almost as soon as they were available. I searched the historical record for revelation. I Googled the date trying to find “National ____ Day” — all in an effort to provide some inspiration for food and drink to accompany the big races.
Good news, April 12 is National Grilled Cheese Day! For those lucky enough to be watching in person, neither racetrack lists grilled cheese as an option on site. It’s possible you can get one, though I would prefer one of these instead.
If you travel through Little Rock, Ark., on your way to Oaklawn Park for the Arkansas Derby, head to The Main Cheese, a newly opened restaurant specializing in grilled cheese. Early reviews are a bit mixed, but if I was going, Float’n The Buffalo sandwich (chicken, hot sauce, blue cheese, etc.) would likely be on my plate - or build your own.
THE MAIN CHEESE - NOW THAT'S A SANDWICH
But this article is really about those watching from home on high-number cable channels or a live feed on your computer. Anyone can make a grilled cheese. I am loving this combination I tried a few months ago. Sauté some shrimp with olive oil and garlic. Add the shrimp and some thinly sliced avocado between your bread and cheese and you have a beautiful sandwich. Or try some brie and bacon on whole wheat. The possibilities are endless.
Feel free to ignore the national theme and pair your menu up with some horse names running that day. If you live near an In-N-Out Burger you can order your burger Animal Style. Rosie Napravnik is riding that horse at Keeneland (#7 in the 8th race). At Oaklawn. the second race features two horses that could tie into food, Skinny (#10) and McLard (#9). I refuse to recommend McDonald’s but maybe something full of fat like fried chicken and something healthier like carrots and hummus would suit this pair, they might also make a fun exacta to play.
I decided to take inspiration here from horses as well. Everyone plays a hunch bet now and again, why not mix up a cocktail for the same reason?
My choice jumped off the screen but it’s almost too easy, so here are some other thoughts first.
You could cop out a little and just mix up something strong, in honor of Knock Em Flat (Oaklawn, Arkansas Derby, 11th race, #2, or the 8th, #3 according to my entry information). This would also tie in with The Boxer, released on April 12, 1969 by Simon and Garfunkel. Hooched Express (Oaklawn, 12th race, #5) might inspire sipping some moonshine but might that not be the best choice for lots of stakes races that day. You can sip beer for a long time and Tapiture is running in the Arkansas Derby (#3) plus Tap Twenty One runs at Keeneland (2nd race, #6) but do you really need a keg? Plus, it’s not specific enough for me.
So, I kept looking. Happy Hour Honey (Oaklawn, 5th, race #2) seemed perfect. Allergy season is in full swing here in New Orleans, cold season lingers elsewhere, and what’s better for a sore, scratchy throat than honey? You don’t have to put it in tea, it works well in cocktails, too! I think mixing up a few Bee’s Knees (gin, lemon juice and honey) might be just the thing. The term means sweet, good, the best and was all the rage in the 1920s.
If gin isn’t your thing and you’re dreaming of the Kentucky Derby perhaps Bourbonize, the #2 horse in the 8th at Oaklawn is your inspiration. Don’t mix up mint juleps, there’s plenty of time for that soon, try a Gold Rush (bourbon, lemon juice and honey syrup which is a simple mix of one part honey and two parts water). This would tie in perfectly with betting and potentially striking it rich as well as a few horses running April 12. Oaklawn has Gold Diggin Dixie running in the 6th (#7) and Golden Lad in the 10th (#6). The Blue Grass Stakes has Medal Count (#13) and everyone wants gold in the Olympics.
As an added bonus, these cocktails are both shaken, not stirred, and would be a great excuse to play Shake, Rattle and Roll by Joe Turner (released April 12, 1954). You can also shake if you follow my somewhat uninspired (but delicious) choice - Lady Margarita, Keeneland, 4th race, #5.
If you’re still not sold, it is also National Licorice Day so you could buy some Anise or Ouzo and sip that - excellent with a little water and/or ice. Pernod is a good brand for anise-flavored liquor and is widely available. Henri Bardouin Pastis is the best I have tasted, without paying the price for Absinthe, but it is not easy to find.
Of course, you are always free to do whatever you want but do something fun and different, after all, April 12 is also National Walk on the Wild Side Day!