Racing season opens at the legendary Del Mar racetrack on July 21. In honor of the sport of kings, I'd like to help you navigate your way through the shoals of signature libations to keep you invigorated and to ease the pain (if you're losing). And for the fun of it, some tidbits about what the athletes (nags and jockeys) imbibe to whet their whistles. I'll drink to that!
While the foal nurses on its mother's milk, it is recommended that the grown horse be given salt to make it thirsty so that it craves water and keeps hydrated. Sugarcane juice is also a good fluid that is used to treat sore throats and colds, and refreshes and provides a boost of energy to the thoroughbred for optimum performance and endurance.
Jockeys, like runway models, have to maintain their svelte figures, but cannot sacrifice their bone strength, metabolic rates, handling skills, cardiovascular fitness and hydration levels. Sports nutritionist gurus advise them to drink calcium-rich beverages such as low-fat milk or milkshakes and yogurts.
Coffee and tea are taboo with meals as they can put the skids on calcium and iron absorption, but can be consumed two hours after a meal or 30 minutes prior. During racing season, jockeys can boost their energy levels with meal replacement drinks, while after the race, they need to rehydrate lost fluids with electrolyte-infused water or sports drinks.
To help with muscle recovering and refueling, they avoid or limit alcohol consumption. But for the racetrack patrons who don't have to abstain from coffee, tea or liquor, the field is wide open.
Each Triple Crown event — the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes — has its traditional celebratory libation.
For centuries, the mint julep blending fresh mint leaves, Kentucky bourbon and crushed ice has been served to cool down the Southerners during blazing Kentucky summers, and is now enjoyed by thousands on Kentucky Derby day at Churchill Downs.
Belmont Park on Long Island, N.Y., is home of the largest dirt course in thoroughbred racing. On Belmont Stakes day, the official drink is the Belmont Breeze, concocted by mixologist Dale DeGroff in 1997 and served every year since.
The recipe for the Belmont Breeze combines Jack Daniel's or Seagram's, Harvey's Bristol Cream Sherry, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup, fresh orange and cranberry juices, and topped with half 7UP and half club soda.
Finally, the Black-Eyed Susan (also the name of a historic paddlewheel boat) is imbibed by roughly 25,000 fans at Pimlico racetrack in Baltimore on Preakness weekend. This combo of whisky, vodka, sweet-and-sour mix and orange juice packs a deceptively powerful punch.
At the Del Mar racetrack, signature libations such as the Del Martini, the traditional lime Del Margarita along with specialty pomegranate and mango versions, the Del Mary, Red Bull Fecta, Lynchberg Lemonade, Captain and Cola and Citrus Press will be flowing like palominos' manes at the Heineken Red Star Cafe and other popular watering holes on opening day and throughout the seven-week season.
Remember: Don't drink on an empty stomach. For racetrack patrons who like to nibble, Executive Chef Barry Schneider for Premier Food Services at the Del Mar Racetrack and Fairgrounds has plumped up the appetizer selections.
At the starting gate — the famous jumbo shrimp cocktail, imported cheese plate, guac, salsa and chips and tempura green beans with cucumber wasabi. At the straightaway, Chef Barry raves about the fresh Dungeness crab salad, so sweet it is dessert delicious, and the tender and juicy bistro chicken with a cranberry quinoa pilaf. He is a die-hard "locavore," using local, fresh ingredients such as a California baby spring mix grown exclusively by Connelly Gardens in Ramona for opening day greens. And for the photo finish, a summery Meyer lemon meringue tart with seasonal berries.
If you're kicking off racing season with a shindig at home, you can whip up a pomegranate Del Margarita, the recipe compliments of Carlo Luciano, beverage manager at the Del Mar racetrack. You'll end up in the winner's circle with your racetrack buddies!
POMEGRANATE DEL MARGARITA
- 2 shots of Jose Cuervo Silver
- 8 ounces of pomegranate margarita mix
- A float of Grand Marnier
- Crushed ice
- Lime wedge and pomegranate seeds for garnish
Fill a shaker with crushed ice. Add the Cuervo Silver, margarita mix and Grand Marnier. Shake well and pour into a salted rimmed margarita glass. Garnish with a wedge of lime and sprinkling of fresh pomegranate seeds