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Kentucky Confidential

The $1000 Mint Julep: This Is Not a Sippy Cup

The Woodford Reserve $1000 mint julep cup on display at the 2010 Barnstable party. (Eclipse Sportswire)

The mint julep tastes best on Derby Day, and there would be no Derby Day without racehorses. Should you happen to have 10 Benjamins in your billfold, you can honor both.

Enter Woodford Reserve’s $1,000 Mint Julep. Forget the ice machine inside 7-Eleven. This julep’s ice is frozen from the purest rainwater, captured on the island of Tasmania, Australia — called “The Edge of the World” — after traveling thousands of miles on Antarctic wind currents.

The exotic water/ice never touches ground, just the bottom of 103 sterling silver cups courtesy of Tiffany & Co.

Add to that Woodford Reserve’s premium batch of bourbon whiskey, cut from the fabric of Master Distiller Chris Morris’ palette. Its tan sugar, from the South American cane fields of Demerara, is bourbon-smoked and infuses the syrup. A sprig of San Diego chocolate mint spikes the cup. The entire concoction would likely prompt the Will Ferrell character Ron Burgundy to say it’s classy.

These extravagances have been available for order since April 11, and, for all we know, were snapped up on Day One. The deep-pocketed and lucky 103 purchasers must pick up their juleps, or send their footman, on Kentucky Derby Day, May 7, inside Gate 10 at Churchill Downs. Tip your bartender.

They’re calling the whole thing the Woodford Reserve $1,000 Mint Julep Cup Experience, and you had better be experienced at these prices. After all, one thousand dollars buys a weekend (night?) worth forgetting in Las Vegas or covers you wide on several Pick 6 tickets.

Each sip of this mint julep costs about $100. Can’t drink it Truman Capote-style, in gulps.

Steep? Actually, not when you consider the cause: All proceeds go to The Heart of a Horse Foundation, a tax-exempt nonprofit whose mission is to “maintain and stimulate the unwavering well-being of horses in America.”

Okay, still steep, but there are ways to ensure that you get the most out of this if you are not, let’s say, lounging at Churchill Downs’ Millionaire’s Row:

  • Wash your hands to remove any oils that could cause slippage. (If you spill even a little, lick it up. Can’t argue this. Can’t do it.)
  • Talk to the opposite sex. Someone’s bound to be impressed. Bring women the blue Tiffany’s box; makes them all tingly.
  • Don’t dress like a slob. No sense in juxtaposing a $1,000 drink with flip flops. Mark Twain the hell out of this.
  • Do what my best friend’s father does: buys one bottle of good liquor, then, once it’s done, refills that bottle with cheap liquor and puts it back on the shelf. Keeping with the theme, ask your bartender to refill your Tiffany cup with a rail brand.
  • Pool together 10 friends at $100 each to make a bourbon syndicate. One sip each, and the cup circulates round like Lord Stanley’s Cup to every person for eternity. The group will feel awful self-satisfied about where the loot is going.

The program is further proof that Kentucky’s bourbon and horse racing cultures are inextricably tied, as they were before the Civil War. As far back as 1816, according to Morris, the master distiller, julep cups were given as trophies to winners of horse races.

“You come to a fair, drink whiskey, race your horse and win a julep cup,” Morris said.

According to The Heart of a Horse Foundation,, there are 7 million horses in the United States. Sure, 20 will enter the starting gate for the Derby on May 7, and, most likely, those 20– .00000286 percent of that 7 million — will find secure retirement away from the teeth of slaughterhouses or the hands of the criminally negligent.

Raising $103,000 affords horses their very own Del Boca Vista.

“These horses give their all for us,” Morris said. “They deserve better.”

The mint julep has been the official drink of the Kentucky Derby for 74 years, from a time when FDR yanked the United States out of the Great Depression and into the second Great War. In the worst of times, still the horses ran, as they do now.

Enjoy the julep; enjoy its cause, and for the love of God, don’t spill it.

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Author PhotoBrendan O'Meara is a contributor to Horse Race Insider where he blogs at The Carryover 2.0. He is the author of the forthcoming book "Six Weeks in Saratoga: How Three-Year-Old Filly Rachel Alexandra Beat the Boys and Became Horse of the Year" (SUNY Press 2011). His work has appeared in the Paulick Report, The Blood-Horse, Brevity, SN Review, and The Good Men Project. Visit his website or follow him on Twitter. More by  ›