Mint Julep

Churchill Downs, 700 Central Avenue, Louisville, Kentucky, 502-636-4400

Life, to this point, has essentially been one long prep race. A beer here, a gin and tonic there -- hell, break out the biggest, baddest drinking story you've ever told, and it still won't compare to the first Saturday in May, four hours due east on Interstate 64.

Standard drinking regimens simply cannot prepare one for the debauchery that ensues at the Kentucky Derby. Food and exercise are afterthoughts, and standard-bred boozehounds needn't bother even passing through the gates at Churchill Downs.

Proper inebriation incubation takes roughly a year, wherein the prospective attendee reserves his Ohio River hotel room plenty early and proceeds to drown himself in varying degrees of drunkenness. If one is to wake up in a mysterious south-city alley on a given Friday, remember, it's all about that one day in May. You pass out and purge your innards now in order to spare yourself the embarrassment when it counts. You challenge yourself now so that you're up to the ultimate challenge later.

As with any other top-flight championship of sport, it comes down to how bad you want it. Derby Day's for thoroughbreds -- superhuman tipplers with the desire and commitment to drink all day and still have enough left in the tank to blow their winnings on bourbon with beer backs on Bardstown Road.

But in the shadow of the twin spires, it's mint julep time, and you haven't really lived until you've had Churchill's signature Early Times mix. Two cups sugar, two cups water, crushed ice and Early Times Kentucky Whisky. Yes, sir -- but don't forget the abundant sprigs of fresh mint. What was once a mere concoction swiftly rises to the status of mixological art. At once, you feel as though you're no longer poisoning yourself, but instead nurturing your body.

This is impossible, of course. Brown liquor has vicious fangs, even when dressed up this fancily. But it's fun to suspend reality for one day in May, and the big, goofy hats and seersucker suits provide a healthy dose of make-believe for just such a situation. The julep, then, becomes mother's milk. Your horse, naturally, will come in first. Your wallet, inevitably, will fatten.

In a perfect world, these things can happen. And with the perfect libation, we like your odds, provided that you start training now. The track likely won't be so sloppy at next year's Run for the Roses. Will you?