My mom liked the horses. I remember we would both pick one to root for, based solely on their wacky names, and cheer for them as they rounded Churchill downs. I can also remember being bothered, almost every year, that the race was so short.
When I was a senior in High School, I started getting really into Hunter S. Thompson. I read my favorite essay by him, "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved" (full text), for the first time around then. He paints this really great picture of the time period and the social climate, without holding back at all in describing the seedy craziness that hovers in the background. His character sketches are awesome. It's a great read, but this essay did kind of destroy my childhood vantage point on the derby. After reading it, you know it's not just about fancy hats and animal husbandry anymore.
I do remember my mom talking about the hats, and how you have to wear a fancy hat when you go to the derby. Below are my selections-
Caroline's Top 10 Hats for the Derby
Extra Credit for the Mint Julep! It is one of the 120,000 consumed at the race every year.
To help one fit in better