Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Oh, how Mom loved the Kentucky Derby May 4, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:03 AM
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Watching the 2015 Kentucky Derby in the auditorium at The Paradise Center for the Arts, Faribault, during a “Big Hats & Big Hearts event. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2015)

MAY, MORE THAN any month, reminds me of my mom. And not just because of Mother’s Day.

Mom’s birthday falls in late May. She would have turned 90 this year.

A guest arrives for the Derby party at the Paradise Center for the Arts in 2015. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2015)

May also means Kentucky Derby time, an annual event Mom looked forward to with unbridled enthusiasm. It wasn’t only the horses which drew her interest. It was the fashion. Mom loved the big hats, the showiness of this social gathering.

I remember phone conversations when Mom talked about the upcoming Derby. I regret that she never attended the Kentucky race. But she saw several horse races at Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minnesota. I have no doubt she would have loved the Kentucky Derby events set there for Saturday, including the Derby Fashion Show followed by live screening of the actual race.

This year’s race holds special interest for Minnesota as two of the horses are owned by Minnesotans. I expect Mom would have chosen Zandon or Zozos to win. Jeff Drown of Clearwater owns Zandon, #2 in the leaderboard rank. And Barry and Joni Butzow of Eden Prairie own Zozos, ranked #17. Both Drown and the Butzows have a long history in racehorse ownership.

Dressed in Derby Day fanciness, attendees view a hat-themed exhibit in the Paradise Center for the Arts gallery in 2015. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2015)

And my mom had a long history of loving horse racing. And of loving the fancy, wide-brimmed Derby hats adorned with flowers, feathers, bows, ribbons… Fashion focus didn’t fit Mom at all. She was a no-frills kind of woman. Basic wardrobe of nothing flashy or fancy. But when it came to the Kentucky Derby, she was fully-engaged in appreciating fashion.

Fresh mint leaves for the mint juleps. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2015)

This year, especially (four months after her death), I remember Mom’s unbridled joy in the Kentucky Derby—both the fashion and the race. I wish I could sit by her side, both of us sporting fancy Derby hats, sipping mint juleps, watching the race live on the screen.

My friend Beth Ann gifted me with official Kentucky Derby glasses from 1986 and 1991. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Yet, I can honor her via memories and via the horse art which I pull out each May. A paint-by-number horse scene purchased at a second-hand store. A painting of horses by my father-in-law. And two Derby drinking glasses gifted to me by a friend.

I purchased this stunning 24-inch x 18-inch paint-by-number painting at a Wisconsin second-hand/collectible/antique shop. The scene reminds me of the Kentucky Derby. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2015)

There is comfort in memories, in remembering how very much my mom loved the Kentucky Derby. This Saturday, when I settle in to watch the horse race, I’ll think of Mom and how she delighted in “Southern Belle” inspired fashion while watching the Derby on TV from her Minnesota home.

NOTE: This is the first in three mother-themed blog posts leading up to Mother’s Day on Sunday, the day after the Kentucky Derby.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


14 Responses to “Oh, how Mom loved the Kentucky Derby”

  1. beth Says:

    what great memories of her love of this tradition

  2. Beautiful memories of your mom. I can see how she could appreciate the fashion without participation in the wearing of the fashion. The horses are so beautiful and graceful to watch as well.

  3. Ahhhh such sweet memories 🙂 I love the fashion as well as the beautiful horses. I also end up sitting on the edge of my seat once the race starts – ha! I always wonder how they come up with the horses names. BroCraves worked at Canterbury back in the day in the Stables area. Mister Craves grew up with horses and I came to love them more through him and his horses. Here’s to Big Hats and Hooves a Racing – Cheers! Happy Day – Enjoy

    • Thank you for appreciating my memories, horse racing and fashion. The Minnesota horse Zozos is named after a restaurant on some island. I’ve forgotten details already, even though I read the story online yesterday. Ah, the memory, not good when I’m tired.

    • One of the horses named Cyberknife is named for the prostrate cancer procedure received by his owner – for awareness. Another horse called Pioneer of Medina – his dad is Pioneer of the Nile and mom is Lights of Medina. Oh so regal! Okay – love this one Smile Happy – dad is Runhappy and Mom is Pleasant Smile 🙂 Zozos – the restaurant is on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

      • You did your homework. Thank you for sharing these name stories with us. I do appreciate Cyberknife. And, yes, St. John, the Virgin Islands…that’s right.

      • I was going to reply back to you since the Kentucky Derby Race turned into so much excitement at the very end. I was rooting for Zandon and thought he might take it and then Rich Strike came with the upset. It was AWESOME to watch and I was like WOW did that just happen and then started cheering.

      • I actually missed the Derby. But I saw the replay. Yes, an exciting race with an unexpected outcome.

  4. Valerie Says:

    This is a fun fact to know about your mother. I recently viewed a funeral online and the woman had a history of wearing hats. Many at the funeral wore them in her honor, and a son wrote a poem about the hats.
    I don’t think I’ve ever watched the derby, but we have been in Kentucky’s horse country and it’s beautiful

  5. Jackie Hemmer Says:

    There just someting abou the Kentucky Derby, it’s something our mom’s hve in common…. my mom looks forward to watching the race every year, although she doesnt pay attention to the fashion. When we were kids we visited Kentucky and go to see Churchhill downs (not the race) I just remember LOTS of red flowers around the grounds, ha.

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