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The Run for the Roses: Celebrating Kentucky Derby with Costume Jewelry

Posted by Laurie Zeiden on

The 142nd running of The Kentucky Derby. If you follow horse racing, enough said. If you're in Kentucky, you probably know most of the facts already. If you're a horse-racing novice, I'll tell you a bit about it.

The Kentucky Derby is the most famous of horse races. It has been dubbed "The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports." and "the Run for the Roses."

The Kentucky Derby is a one and a quarter miles (2 km) race for 3 year-old thoroughbreds. The race and the after parties are the culmination of a two-week festival in Louisville, Kentucky which rivals Mardi Gras in scale. This year's Derby Day is May 7th.

I live in horse country. Just fifteen minutes east of my house, I can find myself surrounded by acres of horse farms. Farms with majestic manor homes and spa-like stables, Farms with gated entries and pasture after pasture of bluegrass, which for the record is green. Drive fifteen minutes west and I'm in downtown Louisville where there are parades, contests and all manner of hoopla collectively called The Kentucky Derby Festival.


Kentucky is nicknamed the Bluegrass State. Bluegrass being the fodder that is so popular on those horse farms. Horses are big business in Kentucky which is why that horse head is the image on the charm above. And, Frankfort, a town of 27,000, is the state capitol. The largest city in the state is Louisville and that's where you'll find Churchill Downs, the race track famous for it's twin spires architecture and for being the home of the Kentucky Derby.

Sterling Silver Churchill Downs Charm 

Lunch at the Ritz 4" long earrings. The top portion is Churchill Downs and the dangling parts are racehorses, jockeys and horseshoes. Perfect for the Derby!

The Kentucky Derby is run on the first Saturday in May, regardless of weather. And for the two weeks preceding the race, there are activities galore in the city. Months before the activities begin, there is the unveiling of the official Kentucky Derby poster. This year's poster, like all the previous posters is horse-centric.

People love the posters and hundreds are framed every year. I have no more room on the walls for another poster, but I have room in the jewelry box and would like to see Derby jewelry as an annual Derby Festival product.

Some of the best equine jewelry was produced in the early to mid-20th century and made of Bakelite. These are some of my favorites.


The Derby Festival season kicks off with Thunder over Louisville, one of the largest fireworks shows in the world. The fireworks spray over the Ohio River and can be seen for miles.

Trifari Set

Warner pin

People races take place too. Three races to train for. There's a marathon, a mini-marathon and the Run for the Rose' which involves wait-staff balancing trays with full wine glasses through a course to the finish line. (I know, my jewelry examples here aren't perfect, but I have to work with what I have).


The Rubber Duck Race benefits Second Harvest, a local food bank. This race is sometimes called the Ken-Ducky Derby.

Rubber Duck Charm

Also known for its sense of humor is the Great Bed Race. Costumed teams of four race a course pushing a decorated bed. The activity is another chance to party! Below is a sterling silver bed charm.


The Great Balloon Glow and the Great Balloon Race are a bit more relaxing. Hundreds of hot air balloons light up the sky. The Glow is a nighttime event. Pilots light their burners resulting in  brilliant splashes of color against the black night sky. The Great Balloon Race is a morning event and clusters of balloons can be seen floating through the air from everywhere in the city. Both events are really spectacular.

onet Pin

Louisville, Kentucky is situated on the Ohio River which lends itself to another race venue - The Great Steamboat Race. Steamboats from up and down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers converge at the Port in Louisville for this river race. Below is a charm showing The Belle of Louisville. The Belle is the hometown favorite. Sadly, she rarely wins the race.

Belle of Louisville Charm

The Pegasus Parade is a traditional parade with floats and marching bands. It's a popular family event during the festival. The 2016 Grand Marshall will be Jordan Smith, Season 9 winner of the TV competition The Voice.

rifari Baton Pin

Pegasus Pins; Unsigned on left, Swarovski on right

Food and drink play an important role in Derby festivities. The Mint Julep is a concoction of bourbon, crushed ice and fresh mint. The drink was traditionally served in a silver julep cup but now mostly served in classic highball glasses. These photos of mint juleps are the real thing; the cocktail glass brooch below them is my jewelry interpretation.

Kern's Bakery, a local company, serves up Derby Pies. They are very tasty and because they travel well, I always try to take one when I go out of town to visit friends.



Derby hats, worn by both men and women, have become a tradition. The hats are big, brightly colored, feathered, flocked and otherwise adorned to stand out.

The Ciner sun bonnet, below, is probably the closest example I have of the real thing. But to be more realistic, the brim should be about twice as wide. The mesh porkpie is doable - if the wearer added more adornments. The Krementz brooch hat is simply too dainty for Derby. That one is better saved for Easter Sunday.

Ciner Pin

Unsigned Pin

Krementz Pin

We've been to the parade, watched the steamboat and rubber duck races, partied through the fireworks display and overeaten for two weeks. It's time for the race! The crowd, accompanied by the University of Louisville marching band, sings My Old Kentucky Home, a folk song standard. The 135th Derby was overcast and rainy, but the NBC News video shown next is a good one because of the great crowd shots including close-ups of hats and outfits.

And, They're Off! The horses leave the starting gates and they move like the wind. Secretariat, in 1973, set the record for the fastest time of a Kentucky Derby, finishing the mile and a half in 1:59:40. He's one of only two horses, Monarchos in 2001 being the other, to finish the race in less than two minutes

Napier Pin with Chain Mane

Pair of cuff links commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Kentucky Derby with image of the first winner, Aristides.

Pair of vintage horse's bridle pins


 Coro Duette Brooch from the 1940s.


Equestrian brooch in silver with leather trim and an antique watch chain and fob.

Gold charm and a shell fob.

Two pairs of cuff links; reverse carved intaglio and sterling silver from Mexico.

Wood and Lucite vintage pin.

Lang silver pin featuring a jockey aboard the horse.

And just like that, "the most exciting two minutes is sports" is over. The winning horse is covered with a blanket of red roses and the winning bettors collect their money. Not to worry, if you missed something, it will happen again next year!

Sterling silver rose charms

Nolan Miller pin














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