EAST MANATEE -- Will it be the wonder horse favorite, California Chrome or Danza, the longshot colt from New Jersey?
It's anybody's guess, but one thing is for certain: There will be a lot of partying going on around Manatee County for the 140th running Saturday of the Kentucky Derby.
One of the most natural locations for a horseracing party is at Sarasota Manatee Association for Riding Therapy Stables on County Road 675 in East Manatee where the race will be the backdrop for a Mint Juleps & Roses fundraiser beginning at 4:30 p.m. SMART, a nonprofit partner of the United Way, provides therapy to disabled children, adults and veterans, and people battling cancer, through a horsemanship program where partic
ipants learn to groom, ride and care for horses from trained volunteers.
A large tent on SMART's sprawling 20-acre, tree-lined property will shelter guests watching Derby Day action from the starting gate to the finish line on a large-screen television. Race day will be followed by an upscale buffet dinner prepared by the Ranch Grill in Lakewood Ranch, served on candelabra-adorned tables with cold mint juleps.
Best Hat contest
The night will conclude with dancing and music performed by One Night Rodeo, winners of the Next Great American Country Star Competition, and a "Best Hat" contest for the ladies, keeping in line with a favorite female southern tradition of wearing chapeaus on the day of the Kentucky Derby, thought to be good luck when betting on a horse.
Linda Filtsch, event chairwoman of the SMART Board, said an evening highlight will be the Parade of Champions featuring SMART students on horseback.
"Our student riders will be wearing the colorful silks that represent the colors of the horses in the Kentucky Derby this year. Of course, they won't be going at that speed, but it will be fun for our guests to witness what we do in the arena, how we help so many with disabilities and challenges," Filtsch said.
Sarasota Singles Society
At the University Park Country Club, the Sarasota Singles Society will hold its own Derby party beginning 5 p.m. Saturday in the Varsity Club room. Founded last November, the club attracts people from all walks of life to one or two major social events per month at different upscale restaurants and clubs where membership is usually required.
Guests of the Sarasota Singles Society Kentucky Derby party will be able to vote for a Kentucky Derby horse and view the entire race, starting with the paddock warmup, on a large-screen TV.
A variety of appetizers, including Kentucky hot browns and dessert, will be served along with complimentary mint juleps.
Founder Shery Janes encourages partygoers to wear Southern attire. The singles club will hold a "Best Hat" competition, too.
Janes said the singles experience she's created has been an amazing journey.
"I've met so many wonderful people. It's been gratifying. We've become a real community of friends."
The one damper on the day is the cancellation of Derby Day at the Ranch, which was to be held at the Premier Sports Campus in Lakewood Ranch. Organizer Brian Shriver said the budget turned out to be more than expected, and partnering charities couldn't help.
So Shriver is moving the party to Saturday, Nov. 1 for the Thoroughbred Breeders' Cup. All tickets purchased for Derby Day will be honored then along with an extra, free ticket.
"The venue might change, but we intend to keep the food, beverages, music, contests and two chosen charities in place," Shriver said.
Food and Wine on Pine
On Anna Maria Island, the fourth annual Food and Wine on Pine Event, held 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., will include a Kentucky Derby tent dubbed "Pine Avenue Downs" that will include a TV display of the race and chance "betting" with prizes, themed Derby activities and drinks and a hat contest.
There's a $2 entry fee for Food and Wine on Pine, and food and beverage tickets cost $1 each.
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.