Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Celebrating the Kentucky Derby, Minnesota style May 2, 2015

The marquee on the Paradise Center for the Arts announces the Kentucky Derby Party.

The marquee on the Paradise Center for the Arts announces the Kentucky Derby Party.

IT WASN’T CHURCHILL DOWNS. But the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault drew a fashionable crowd to watch the greatest two minutes in sports Saturday afternoon.

A guest arrives for the Derby party.

A guest arrives for the Kentucky Derby party in downtown Faribault.

Attendees view the hat-themed exhibit in the gallery.

Attendees view the hat-themed exhibit in the gallery.

More great hats.

More great hats.

I was there, sporting a wide-brimmed hat that made me feel like a horse with blinders. I’ve concluded that I’m not comfortable wearing an over-sized hat. But I delighted in viewing all of the stylish Kentucky Derby attire.

A poster in an exterior window promotes the Derby event.

A poster in an exterior window promotes the Derby event.

There was even a horseshoe shaped cake.

There was even a horseshoe shaped cake.

"Frilly Filly" by Audrey Sand, art in the gallery.

“Frilly Filly” by Audrey Sand, art in the gallery.

The Big Hats & Big Hearts Auction for the Arts and Derby Party featured fashion, food, a hat-themed gallery exhibit and live and silent auctions.

The auctioneer bought his yellow leisure suit in the early 1970s.

The auctioneer bought his yellow leisure suit in the early 1970s.

The auctioneer even arrived in a 1970s yellow leisure suit complete with horse print tie.

The Paradise Center for the Arts was decorated with lots of red roses.

The Paradise Center for the Arts was decorated with lots of red roses.

Fresh mint leaves for the mint juleps.

Fresh mint leaves for the mint juleps.

Fans watched the race on the big screen in the theatre.

Fans watched the race on the big screen in the theatre.

There were red roses and mint juleps and raucous roaring as American Pharaoh edged out Firing Line to win the 141st Kentucky Derby. Carpe Diem, the horse I chose, finished tenth. My husband’s finished second.

The live auction begins.

The live auction begins.

Me, ready for the Derby party.

Me, ready for the Derby party.

Tickets for mint juleps.

Tickets for mint juleps.

Win or lose, it didn’t matter to me. I was there to support the arts, view the fashions and try a mint julep for the first time.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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When fashion wins over horses April 29, 2015

FOR AS LONG AS I CAN REMEMBER, my now nearly 83-year-old mom has been enthralled by the Kentucky Derby.

I purchased this stunning 24-inch x 18-inch paint-by-number painting for a song last fall at a Wisconsin second-hand/collectible/antique shop. The scene reminds me of the Kentucky Derby. Interestingly enough, on the official Derby website store, paint-by-number horse paintings are available for purchase.

I purchased this stunning unframed 24-inch x 18-inch paint-by-number painting for a song last fall at a Wisconsin second-hand/collectible/antique shop. The scene reminds me of the Kentucky Derby. Interestingly enough, on the official Derby website store, paint-by-number horse kits are available for purchase.

This week I asked her why, something I felt compelled to know because, well, time slips away and then we wish we’d asked these questions. So I phoned her at her assisted living apartment 120 miles away in southwestern Minnesota, catching her right before lunch.

“It’s because of the hats they wear, not because of the horses,” she replied. And here, all along, I thought her Derby interest was fixed on the horses.

She continued: “It’s unbelievable to me what kind of crazy hats they wear. They’re so big.”

The fancy hat I purchased months ago for a Kentucky Derby party.

The fancy hat I purchased months ago for a Kentucky Derby party.

In that moment I wished Mom could join my husband and me for the Big Hats & Big Hearts Annual Auction for the Arts and Kentucky Derby Party at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault from 4 p.m. – 7 p.m. Saturday. That celebration includes viewing of the race, live and silent auctions, and Derby food and drinks.

Kentucky Derby hats

Kentucky Derby hats at The Crafty Maven, 212 Central Avenue, on display in early April.  Photo courtesy of The Crafty Maven.

A bonus is the current gallery exhibit, “A great place to hang your hat,” running through May 5 and sponsored by The Crafty Maven. That downtown Faribault shop offers an assortment of Derby hats and will even custom embellish hats for the big race day.

While I’m sitting in the Paradise theatre watching the Derby on the big screen, my mom will have her TV tuned to the festivities. She’ll review the list of contenders and choose a horse solely on liking its name. That’s precisely how I pick a horse. Neither of us cares about their rankings, only the names.

Names of past Derby winners are listed on a commemorative drinking glass gifted to me by my friend Beth Ann.

Names of past Derby winners are listed on a commemorative drinking glass gifted to me by my friend Beth Ann.

Of the 140 Kentucky Derby winners, I remember only one—that of triple crown and 1973 winner Secretariat. Aristides won the first race in 1875. Reviewing the list of horses for the 141st Derby run, Bold Conquest grabs my fancy.

My vintage paint-by-number horse painting up close.

My vintage paint-by-number horse painting up close.

I wonder which horse Mom will choose. She’s never been to Churchill Downs, but years ago attended several races at Minnesota’s Canterbury Park. The Shakopee horse race track is hosting a Kentucky Derby party on Saturday. Mom and her sister Rachel selected horses at Canterbury based on liking their names. Once, though, they picked a horse co-owned by the son of the veterinarian from my hometown.

My friend Beth Ann, who spoils me, gifted me with official Kentucky Derby mint julep glasses from 1986 and 1991.

My friend Beth Ann, who spoils me, gifted me with official Kentucky Derby mint julep glasses from 1986 and 1991.

I wish Mom could travel to Louisville, sit in the stands in a big fancy hat and sip mint juleps. She’s always wanted to attend the Derby. But at her age, she never will. Life is like a horse race. Sometimes we win. Sometimes we don’t.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling