When the gates open and 20 thoroughbred horses blast toward turn one of the 2014 Kentucky Derby, the loudest cheering in Orlando may come from the Winter Park Country Club.
At Derby on Park, hundreds of racing fans — or just fans of a good time — are expected to come out to cheer on the world’s most famous horse race at a party designed with a classy but laid back style in mind. Bowties and floppy hats? Indubitably. Wacky jackets? But of course. Snobby attitudes? Not at this soiree.
“I think it’s the best event in Winter Park,” said event organizer Anthony DiNova before hedging his bet that it may not be at its pinnacle just yet. The event, created soon after the launch of DiNova’s Winter Park Annual event hosting business, is only on its second year.
Regardless, even in its first year the fledgling wildly outfitted and oenophile-friendly event managed to give nearly $500 to charity — not bad for Winter Park Annual, which is openly for-profit. This year he’s hoping to donate far more.
Derby on Park is from 4 to 10 p.m. May 3 at Winter Park Country Club, 761 Old England Ave. in Winter Park. Visit Winterparkannual.com for more information.
The charities couldn’t be more appropriate, with the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation and Events for Change both receiving donations this year.
With all of the horses lining up at Churchill Downs on May 3 being only 3 years old and their average lifespan extending more than three decades down the road, former racers need a place to call home after their careers are over. Enter the TRF’s Thoroughbred Adoption Network, a massive horse sanctuary that rescues and rehabilitates horses, and cares for and retrains racing retirees.
The group also helps rehabilitate people, with inmates from nearby prisons introduced to horses and horse training, to help build a bond that might not be so easy to build with humans. A horse sanctuary in Ocala, which aside from helping horses find homes also works with Lowell Correctional Institute, will benefit from donations from Derby on Park.
The benefits of that symbiosis are easy to see. At the start of a video from the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, horses circle the Saratoga Race Course as trainers talk about the uncertainty of a horse that is past its prime. A few seconds later, not far from Wallkill Correctional Institute in the rolling hills of upstate New York, a graying man leads a horse out from a barred barn door and into an open field. They start to trot alongside each other.
“These horses really do help me,” inmate Efrain Silva said. “They help me do this time.”
The inmates volunteer to help care for the horses, hundreds of which are adopted to new homes each year. So far TRF has cared for more than 4,000 horses in that time.
“It seemed like the right thing to do,” DiNova said of his first year partnering with TRF. “For us to be able to help a charity like that, it feels good.”
Looking for a bit more spirit at the Derby event? It’ll also be for a good cause. Events for Change, which will be helping out behind the bar at Derby on Park, helps raise money for local charities. Since starting in 2010 it’s raised $200,000 for a group of Central Florida charities.
And if parking is a worry, the University Club of Winter Park, which provides community events and enlightening lectures, will be offering its parking space, with a suggested $5 donation to help raise money for the club.
Despite the haughty-sounding event, usually more associated with the wine-and-cheese set, DiNova said he’s hoping for less pomp and more party, with an initial ticket price of $30 for official fans of his event business, and $50 up until the day of the event. That includes drinks, food, a bottle of South African Merlot or Central Coast Chardonnay, free cigars to the first 100 guests, plus the race and the Derby-chic fashion show. DiNova is hoping that fashion show is one that everybody can get into. And he means that literally.
“You don’t have to be a fashion model to be on that runway,” he said. “I want this event to be for everybody. It’s just a good time.”