YONKERS, N.Y. – For many of the spectators at Yonkers Raceway, Saturday’s Kentucky Derby wasn’t about which horse finished first or the bets they won or lost.
For many, it was all about the hats.
The Empire City Casino hosted its inaugural Run for the Roses Hat Competition, a tribute to the 138th running of the “Greatest Two Minutes in Sports” and the affection its spectators have for eccentric and over-the-top hats.
"Not only does the Derby celebrate the finest in horse racing, but it brings people together to revel in the excitement of both sports and fashion,” Yonkers City Council President and contest judge Chuck Lesnick said in a press release.
Since it began more than a century ago, Kentucky Derby attendees have been expected to wear their finest hats. Even today, a sea of hats can be seen filling the stands on Derby day.
In Yonkers, more than more than 60 men and women took part in the tradition, showing off their most creative and fashionable headpieces.
Some opted for a conservative look, donning large floppy sun hats. Others decided the more outrageous the better, adding feathers, flowers and even empty cans of cat food to their caps.
“The hats should be festive and kind of wacky in their design,” said contestant and New Jersey native Jack Miller, sporting his cowboy hat outfitted with rainbow-colored streamers. “Nobody likes that plain stuff.”
Linda Foreman said she spent three hours Saturday morning outfitting her large straw hat with dozens of bright plastic flowers. Her partner, Ira Foreman, went for a simpler, more themed look, with three plastic horses and a mint julep cup atop his fedora.
“We love it,” the Yonkers woman said of the hat contest, adding that the couple create off-the-wall hats for all occasions. “I love people’s reaction the most.”
Lesnick, state Assembly member Shelley Mayer (D-Yonkers) and state Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) were part of a panel of judges who dished out a $2,000 prize pool, given to the three most creative and most fashionable hats. But even those who walked away empty-handed said it was worth the trip to the raceway.
“It’s a fun day and something for us to do,” said Doma Souhrada, who had come from New York City with a group of friends for the contest. “It’s just a happy celebration.”