The eve of the Florida Derby is always an exciting day, but this year feels even more thrilling since the 2013 winner of this race, Orb, went on to capture the Kentucky Derby. That’s one of my favorite parts of this time of year: the knowledge that – somewhere – there is a superstar horse about to launch his name into the hallowed firmament of Kentucky Derby champions.
So I was in an excellent mood as I headed from my parents’ house this morning and made my way to Gulfstream Park to take in the pre-Florida Derby scene. It was an absolutely beautiful day (SUCH a nice change from the Winter That Will Not End that I’ve been living through in New York City. Seriously, I feel like I’ve moved to Winterfell.) so I rolled down the windows and cruised down I-95 with the music turned up.
When I got to Gulfstream, I headed up to the press box and got settled in. What a delight it was to see my friend Natalie Voss up there! She’s an awesome journalist who writes for The Paulick Report, and you can give her a follow on Twitter here. It’s always so much fun to see other racing journalists when you least expect to, and especially great when it’s a friend!
Anyway, once we’d said hi and chatted, I was ready to dive into a little food. The Gulfstream press box is on the third floor of the building right next to the amazing Christine Lee’s, a Chinese restaurant, so I knew just what I was having: the pork lo mien. So, so, yummy. So, so not healthy.
After tucking into my sinfully delicious lunch, it was time for me to head out to the track and take in the scene. Gulfstream is a beautiful racetrack, and it’s also one of the premier winter-to-spring racing meets in the nation. Accordingly, each and every horse shows up primped and looking their best, setting the scene for the beauty that is horse racing.
Even the outrider’s pony looked great! (An outrider is a mounted racetrack official whose job is to catch loose horses, attend injured jockeys, and assist the stewards in spotting any fouls that might occur during a race.)
One of my favorite things about going to the racetrack is meeting the eccentric characters that congregate there. When I was out shooting photos, I noticed this older gentleman wearing a rather remarkable hat:
It’s a plastic pigeon and a plastic feather glued onto a baseball cap bearing jockey Calvin Borel’s name. The next time I saw him, he was wearing a faux-fur raccoon-skin cap, complete with tail:
That was it. I had to know more. So I headed down his way to ask about his headwear. He was a totally nice guy who just has a thing for fun headwear. He also showed me his third chapeau, which was a straw hat to which he added a souvenir whenever he took it somewhere new:
I love meeting new people, and this man was such a character! He and his friends were having a blast, knocking back a few beers, making some bets and enjoying the beautiful weather. There were tons of other people out, enjoying a leisurely Friday afternoon at the races.
I even spotted a pink flamingo snacking in the infield pond between races – how cool is that?
After the races, Gulfstream had a reception in the paddock for Florida Derby day connections and fans. Owners, trainers, jockeys, media and assorted Miami glitterati gathered together to celebrate what will surely be a great day of racing on Saturday. The track transformed the paddock area, where the horses parade for fans before heading to the races, into an amazing party space.
As fans mingled with the trainers, jockeys and owners who would be competing in Saturday’s races, performers in fantastic costume dazzled the crowd. There were aerialists, stilt-walkers and more, lending the scene a Cirque du Soleil vibe.
Naturally, my favorite things were the collections of mini cupcakes, which were attended by women in breathtaking costumes that created tables from their skirts.
Also, the red velvet cupcakes had miniature chocolate chips mixed in with the batter. Heaven.
As the evening wore on, the live music began; there was even a jazz clarinetist there who wandered throughout the crowd. He was so good that even Gulfstream Park’s owner Frank Stronach was dancing along!
As the music carried into the Miami night, I began to make my way home so I could get a good night’s sleep before all of the big races on Saturday.
Thanks as always for stopping by, and I’ll be back with all of the action out of Gulfstream Park’s Florida Derby day!