Derby Hats

An Oak­lawn Tra­di­tion

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - Front Page - Story by MANDIE GOBER Pho­tos by BETH BRIGHT

For most head­ing to the races at Oak­lawn Park is as much a so­cial oc­ca­sion as a sport­ing event and Derby Day is the big­gest of them all. Tens of thou­sands of people crowd into the Spa City each year for the Arkansas Derby held in early April, many don­ning their finest duds or their looni­est lids, all in the name of fash­ion and in the spirit of an ex­cit­ing race.

The first Arkansas Derby was run in 1936 for a purse of $5,000.The first win­ner was Holl Im­age, who was owned and trained by Jack Carter. Al­though the num­bers have con­tin­ued to in­crease with the prize now at a $1 mil­lion purse, equal­ing that of the rich­est North Amer­i­can Ken­tucky Derby prep race. Last year, Jockey Rafael Be­jarano took home the ti­tle with a lit­tle more than 66,000 watch­ing as Over­an­a­lyze crossed the fin­ish line.

Much has changed since those early days. Pa­trons have weath­ered the Great De­pres­sion and world wars, as well as years of ex­pan­sion and pros­per­ity, but the feel of ex­cite­ment when hear­ing “and they’re off,” never seems to get old.

“People see com­ing to the races as an event, a fun form or en­ter­tain­ment, a way to for­get ev­ery­thing else and just en­joy it,” said me­dia re­la­tions man­ager Jennifer Hoyt. “There is just some­thing about sit­ting in our grand­stands dressed in your best dresses and hats cheer­ing for your fa­vorite horse.”

The tra­di­tion of the hats have played an im­por­tant role in the his­tory of horse rac­ing for cen­turies, dat­ing as far back as the world fa­mous Royal As­cot

in the United King­dom, where it was de­creed that all guests within the Royal En­clo­sure ad­here to a strict dress code. It didn’t take long for the royal dress code to catch on at the ma­jor race­tracks in the United States. Churchill Downs pa­trons tak­ing in the Ken­tucky Derby in par­tic­u­lar have been en­joy­ing this re­spected tra­di­tion since 1875.

More and more, cre­ativ­ity is win­ning out over the tra­di­tional head pieces with some opt­ing to cre­ate their own Derby Day en­sem­bles. “We en­cour­age ev­ery­one to just have fun with it, whether you choose to wear your Sun­day best or the wack­i­est out­fit you can find. It is such a great day for ev­ery­one and we just want ev­ery­one to en­joy them­selves.”

There is plenty of time left to get your out­fit ready and with all the op­tions in Hot Springs find­ing the per­fect hat will be a breeze.

“Some plan their out­fits and find the per­fect hat weeks or even months in ad­vance,” said Hoyt. “This is a tra­di­tion that most cer­tainly didn’t start with Oak­lawn, but it has car­ried over to our races es­pe­cially since we are one of the na­tion’s leading derby preps. It’s just a fun at­mos­phere and it’s great to see all the dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties com­ing out to carry on the tra­di­tion.”

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