Hundreds of big-hat-wearing, mint julep-holding horse-racing fans will descend on Clayton’s Portofino community on Saturday for one of the largest Kentucky Derby parties in the region.
The annual Derby Day celebration, with tailgating, an entertainment barn and kids’ zone, is also the Clayton Rotary Club’s largest fundraiser, which this year will benefit the Boys and Girls Home of North Carolina.
“It’s a fun event, but it’s also for a good cause,” said Kelly Norman, the Rotary Club’s director of marketing.
Past Derby Days have drawn nearly 1,000 attendees to Portofino, a horse-friendly residential community off N.C. 42. Some of those celebrations have happened under less-than-perfect weather conditions. Rotary Club President Charles Marcom said he’s crossing his fingers for sunny skies this year.
“This is our biggest shot in the arm that allows us to do the things that we do,” he said.
In addition to supporting the Boys and Girls Home, Derby Day profits will go to the club’s scholarship program for Clayton High School seniors. Other beneficiaries are the Clayton Interact Club, local youth participants in the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards program and Stop Hunger Now, an international hunger-relief campaign.
General admission is $20, with children 12 and younger admitted free. A regular ticket includes free parking and access to music and all events. Drinks, including adult beverages, will be for sale along with food from Zaxby’s and Lone Star Steakhouse.
Adults 21 and older can also purchase $100 tickets to the exclusive Jockey Club, which provides “a traditional Southern gathering place complete with flowers, linens and silver,” according to the event’s website. Jockey Club ticketholders receive valet parking, a catered meal, drinks and premiere seating for the viewing of the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby.
The final ticket option is a $35 vehicle pass to a Party Paddock tailgating area, where patrons can pitch tents and entertain guests before the race.
Norman, the marketing director, said Derby Day is a classy affair and plays off the elaborate style of the main event. Fashion is king, she said, and the event has become known for its personalized brim hats, spring dresses and seersucker suits.
“It’s changing the perception that we’re only about moonshine in Clayton,” Norman said.
Judges will move throughout the crowd during the day, selecting the best-dressed attendees for a fashion parade and competition toward the end of the day.
Derby Day is also about the horses, Norman said, and a range of equestrian events are scheduled throughout the day, including a horseback-riding exhibition. The kids zone, she added, will offer an air-conditioned tree house, face painting and a bounce house.
Gates open at 2 p.m., and all events lead up to the showing of the Kentucky Derby, which will begin just after 6:20 p.m. To see a full schedule of events, go to www.claytonderbyday.com.
Dunn: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104