Welcome to another racing season. Whether you’re a hard-core handicapper, a casual fan, or simply looking to make the most of a sun-drenched Saturday, a day at the racetrack is the great equalizer of sports. A summer lineup of horse races at a host of amazing venues across the country is an enticing prospect, no matter your experience with the sport.
Leading up to race day, a guy has a lot on his mind. What horse am I going to bet on? Should I take an Uber so I can partake in the track’s signature drink? And of course, what am I going to wear?
Before you panic-buy an outfit and all the fashion accessories, let’s take a step back and consider the context.
What’s the Vibe of the Venue?
There’s a lot to take into account when you’re heading to the races, the first of which is understanding the general atmosphere of the venue. Are you headed to a small- or medium-sized racetrack? Is it one of the major racetracks in the sport?
Depending on the answer, the dress code and general decorum may be very different. Even a newcomer to horse racing is sure to understand that a race at Churchill Downs for, say, the Kentucky Derby or one at Keeneland for the Breeders’ Cup is sure to be a bit more formal with guys donning suits, waistcoats, and even bow ties. Not to say you won’t see some out-of-left-field outfits but such prestigious races often call for a more sophisticated attire.
Summers at a track like Saratoga are a little more relaxed with an atmosphere that is surely focused on the races but also seek to play-up the live-event appeal. In this case, “casual is king.” And when in doubt, it’s always best to over-dress. Just because you show up in a dapper sport coat and tie doesn’t mean a few hours later you can’t have your jacket haphazardly hanging off the back of a chair, as you’re screaming for your horse to rally, sleeves rolled up, tie loosened, and periodically dipping into your fourth adult beverage of the day.
Either way, do your research. Before you attend any racetrack visit the venue’s website and find out what is expected of their male guests in the various sections of the track.
Selecting Threads for the Track
Figuring out the right shirt and pants combo is tricky enough for a day at the races, but throwing in the age-old question of when it’s appropriate to don a jacket and tie can make race day confusing. But you’re in luck, here at America’s Best Racing, we have a roster of brand ambassadors who know a thing or two about culture and style.
For instance, take Joey Mulinaro, former Barstool contributor and current impressionist/digital content creator. A minority horse owner as part of ABR’s A Stake in Stardom initiative, Joey’s race day style—including at the Kentucky Derby—is impeccable.
And if a cool, casual Friday look of chinos, a simple button-down, and a hat wasn’t enough, Joey (and his entire crew), graced the Derby Day track with the perfect combo of sport coat, crisp white shirt, and a pastel bow tie.
If a bow tie isn’t your cup of tea, don’t be afraid to go the more traditional route and embrace a classic jacket and tie. In this case accessories, like glasses or a hat, may become the defining feature of your race day outfit (more to come on accessories … ). Or you can rip a page from our very own Darwin Vizcaya, host of La Trifecta, ABR’s Spanish language livestream show, and add a distinct flair to your Derby outfit — or any race, really — and use color to take your look to the next level.
At the very least most racetracks will expect their male guests to dress in the vein of business casual. Therefore, we’d recommend, at a minimum, a well-fitted collared shirt and a pair of pants. Jackets will be dependent on the specific venue’s dress code (as we touched on in section one) and where exactly you’re sitting.
Here’s the deal: a day at the races is about having a good time. Period. Outside of celebrating the amazing sport and the incredible equine athletes that make us fall in love with them year after year, visiting a track is a perfect opportunity to dress up in whatever makes you feel like a winner while enjoying the unique culture of horse racing.
Accessorize for Success … orize
Much like the sides at a dinner party, the outfit accessories can often make or break your race day look. So let’s start from the ground up, shall we?
The reality of any racetrack visit is that you’ll be on your feet for most, if not all, of the day. Between walking the infield (if the venue has one accessible), to doing laps while exploring the track’s food/beverage/shopping areas, you’ll be getting in your steps, so make sure you’re rocking a comfortable pair of shoes — preferably a polished pair.
Moving up the body, don’t overlook the potential of a belt or pristine pocket-square to tie together the ultimate racetrack ensemble. Consider these accent accessories to elevate your outfit accordingly. Be sure to coordinate colors as best you can, matching your belt with your shoes, and your square to, well … just make sure nothing clashes, ok?
Now to the bow tie. Have you ever been preparing for an event and thought, “is this finally time to try a bow tie?” Me neither. But that time could be now! I promise you, you will not be the only one wearing a bow tie to the track (if you’re feeling a little self-conscious). Race day fashion is all about expression and feeling good doing it. If you have a bow tie hanging in your closet just waiting to be unleashed or, more realistically, if your dad has one from the 80s, it might be time to dust it off.
And finally *drumroll* the hats. Oh, the hats. Newbies to the sport of horse racing are sure to be at least a little familiar with the connection of horse racing culture and headgear. For the gents, the options are endless: fedora, panama, boater, pork pie, etc. Even a flat cap could be a great option depending on the rest of your outfit. Whatever style you choose, be sure to select a fabric — wool, linen, straw, what have you — that compliments your look.
No matter what you or your buddies elect to wear to a day at the track, make sure, first and foremost, that it adheres to the basic dress code and, more importantly, ensure you feel at your best in that outfit you decide to go with. Horse racing fashion culture is all about embracing the atmosphere and grabbing the day by the reins—and an on-point, expressive look can make all the difference.