There’s no celebration quite like the Kentucky Derby, which often sees men and women donning their most extravagant hats and headwear and enjoying a day of competition and cheer.
And even though Winter Park is more than 800 miles from Churchill Downs, residents have a chance to join in the Derby Day fun.
On Saturday, May 4, Derby on Park will make its triumphant return to the University Club of Winter Park.
Anthony DiNova, owner of Winter Park Events, said he had the idea for Derby on Park years ago, when looking at the pricey options for enjoying the Kentucky Derby race.
“The idea was to create a high-end experience for an affordable price for people who didn’t want to spend three grand at Churchill Downs … it’s a lot of money,” DiNova said.
The annual event will have guests donning their fanciest hats and enjoying food, drinks and the Kentucky Derby race. As is custom, there will be no gambling.
Derby on Park is expected to draw in about 300 attendees, a number DiNova believes reflects the event’s more intimate feel. Although the event had been held at the Winter Park Country Club in the past, in recent years, it has moved to the University Club of Winter Park.
“In our seventh year, we keep it a niche, small-knit event of around 300 people, give or take,” he said. “We don’t want it to be a huge crowd but want to provide a really good experience for the people there. … (There’s) unlimited drinks, unlimited food. There’s no cap on it … we don’t want to upcharge you on a $50 ticket to an event and have to pay for everything else while you’re there.”
Fifteen food and drink vendors will be present at the function, as well as six sponsors including Mercedes-Benz, which will be selling one of its cars.
Merritt and his BeBest Events company partnered with DiVona for the Derby event in 2017. He has since taken on more a hands-on role as operations manager as DiNova has transitioned to focusing on real estate. Merritt said he has made sure the University Club will have proper tents and shading to keep people comfortable in the cool.
“It’s not easy; it’s a lot of work because you have to create a great experience for attendees, for the vendors … and you have to create a great experience for the sponsors,” Merritt said. “My job is to provide the wow effect for all three of those groups so they come to that event … and it’s all about the hats. People love the hats.”
As usual, Derby on Park will host a competition for best Hat, best Dressed Man and Best Dressed Couple, which will have $1,000 in cash and prizes for the first- and second-place winner. In past competitions, judges and local celebrities have chosen the winners; this year’s champions will again be chosen by the crowd.
“This is a great example for people to get together, enjoy themselves … dance, create new friendships,” DiNova said. “We have a pretty decent crowd; that’s my favorite aspect. I like seeing people meet and become friends.”
IF YOU GO
Derby On Park 2019
WHEN: 3:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 4
WHERE: University Club of Winter Park, 841 N. Park Ave., Winter Park
COST: Tickets start at $85, $100 at the door