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Hats, Mint Juleps & Roses: Kentucky Derby Staples Explained

Here's an explanation of some of the Kentucky Derby's most iconic traditions, including the origins of big hats and mint juleps at the races.

By Jill Ornitz | May 2, 2015

As horse racing fans across the country gear up for the 141st Kentucky Derby, here's a look at the history of the race's most iconic traditions.

When it comes to race fashion, we have England to thank for the over-the-top hats women wear at The Derby. (Video via Fashion At The Races)

The Derby was modeled after racing at England's Epsom Downs.

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An educator from the Kentucky Derby Museum told U.S. News & World Report big hats were en vogue when the Kentucky Derby began in 1875, and the tradition stuck. (Video via The Wall Street Journal)

But winning horses have a famous fashion statement of their own – the garland of roses.

The Kentucky Derby says the garland as it's known today was introduced in 1932 for the 58th running.

It takes more than 400 roses to create the coveted prize.

And most Kentucky Derby parties wouldn't be complete without a mint julep. (Video via Allrecipes)

The Derby says nearly 120,000 mint juleps are served each year at Churchill Downs during the two days of races. (Video via Howcast)

But according to Eater, the Derby hasn't sold true mint juleps for the last 18 years. The site says the drink's official recipe calls for bourbon, while The Derby's official spirit for the last 18 years – Early Times Kentucky Whisky – isn't technically bourbon.

That's because bourbon is required to age in new charred oak barrels. Eater reports Early Times Kentucky Whisky rests in used barrels, so it's labeled as a Kentucky whisky. (Video via YouTube / Reserve Channel)

But the outlet also points out The Derby is making a big switch this year to return to bourbon and the proper julep tradition. According to The Derby, it will take 1,000 pounds of fresh mint and 60,000 pounds of ice to make all those drinks.

This video includes images from Getty Images and music from Bensound / CC BY ND 3.0.

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