Party combines Derby, art and fashion

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Millions of horse racing fans will miss the chance to see this year’s running of the Kentucky Derby in person, but The Wildlife Experience has the next best thing.

For the second year, the wildlife conservation and education museum is hosting “Art of the Race — The Kentucky Derby Party,” an event that encourages guests to don their finest dresses, suits and ornate hats while watching the most exciting two minutes in sports.

Visitors will gather May 4 for a garden party in the museum’s courtyard, where they will listen to live bluegrass music while dining on Southern-themed hors d’oeuvres and sipping on complimentary mint juleps. The race will be shown in the Extreme Screen Theater, a venue that boasts digital quality so advanced that guests may feel like they’re sitting trackside at Churchill Downs.

The inaugural event last year attracted roughly 150 people, and organizers believe “Art of the Race” will grow to become one of the more popular Kentucky Derby parties in the Denver area. The museum made 300 tickets available this year and they are expected to sell out.

“It’s something different and fun,” said Rachel Campbell, an executive assistant for the nonprofit museum. “People are able to come out and dress up and celebrate a Southern Americana tradition.”

“Art of the Race” was conceived of by Gary Debus, who became president and CEO of The Wildlife Experience last year. The die-hard equestrian says the horse culture in Douglas and Elbert counties remains strong, and he believes the Kentucky Derby party is a perfect addition to the museum’s diverse lineup of annual events and educational programming.

“It’s a good way to experience horse racing not far from home,” Debus said.

“Art of the Race” was so named because guests will have the chance to walk through an enchanting art exhibit that features stunningly lifelike works by some of the world’s top equine artists.

A jar displaying the names of each Kentucky Derby racehorse will be set out, and attendees are asked to pick the winner. Once the race is over, names will be drawn from the jar and winners will get gift certificates to Park Meadows mall and other prizes. Officials will also announce the top picks in contests for best-dressed and best hat, Campbell said.

“Art of the Race” is from 2:30 to 5 p.m. May 4 at The Wildlife Experience, at Lincoln Avenue and Peoria Street. Tickets are $20 for museum members and $25 for non-members. To reserve seats, call 720-488-3344 or visit www.thewildlifeexperience.org and click on “events.”