Dressing for the Derby

The attire for the Kentucky Derby is certainly spectacular, classic, timeless, or outrageous.  It’s a time to see and be seen.  For the grandstand, most outfits work well with the adjectives of classic or timeless, although the hats are in a category all their own.  In the infield, well that’s a different story – the more outrageous, the better.  Homemade hats depicting the twin spires, a racetrack headpiece, a bouquet of roses – anything goes.  All in all, it’s a kaleidoscope of colors no matter where you happen to be seated.

The jockeys who ride those beautiful three year old thoroughbreds to victory are decked out as well.  Their basic outfit hasn’t changed much over the years. There have been some advances in fabrics and safety features added, but the overall scheme is fairly constant, and each part of their uniform has a purpose.

Overall, the jockey’s clothing is referred to as silks. In earlier years, the jacket was made from silk.  The fabric was light, flexible, and airy – ideally suited to a sport where the weight of the rider is so important.  Lycra has replaced silk as the predominant fabric, mostly due to its durability, and the fact that it also retains all the preferred properties of silk.  The silk jacket worn is determined by the registered colors and pattern design of the owner or trainer.  There are 18 colors available and registration of colors can range from one year, five years, ten years, or lifetime.  Red has been a component of the most Derby wins, white is considered the luckiest color, brown is the least favored color.  Most silks are comprised of at least three colors.  The owner or trainer provides the jackets and all are one size fits all.  If a jockey is riding in multiple races on a given day, all he needs to change is his jacket to designate who he’s riding for in that race.  Under their jackets, jockeys now wear protective vests to help prevent broken ribs in a fall.  A cravat finishes out the look.

A jockey’s riding breeches are white, tightly fitted, and usually tucked into patent leather riding boots.  Jockeys usually have several pair in different weights for cooler or wet weather conditions.

The caps that jockeys wear are for protection from head injuries and are replaced if they are ever part of an accident. Their cost ranges from $500 to $900 each.  Caps are covered in the same colors as their jackets.

Goggles are important eye protection for jockeys, especially if the track is muddy.  Jockeys may wear as many as nine pair at the start of the race and as they get splattered, pull that pair down under their chin and keep going.  There’s no limit on how many pairs of goggles they can wear; the goal is obviously to still have a pair on by the end of the race.

What is the ultimate item that a jockey and thoroughbred want to wear on Derby Day?  They run for that garland of roses!  There are approximately 460 roses that are hand selected from over 7,000 roses shipped to Churchill Downs.  The garland, once completed, is 122 inches long by 22 inches wide and weighs over 40 pounds. The winning jockey receives his own bouquet of 60 long stemmed roses.

If you’re lucky enough to be at Churchill Downs, great!  If not, join the televised show on the first Saturday in May for the Run for the Roses! There’s nothing that compares to the Kentucky Derby!


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