This is the eighth year the grand-a-piece drinks are being offered at the Derby by bourbon maker Woodford Reserve. The firm says that in the past seven years the proceeds from the cups have runneth over into more than $354,000 in donations to charities. This year's benefactor: the Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Center for former race horses.
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At Churchill Downs this week, John Deaver, 56, was sipping a mint julep in a souvenir glass he bought at the track for $8. He's a lover of bourbon, collector of bourbon bottles and glasses and a resident of Bardstown, Ky., home of the Kentucky Bourbon Festival.
Would he pay $1,000 for a mint julep?
"Not unless I hit a big (wagering) ticket," said Deaver. "I'd love to have one of those cups for my collection though. It would be great.''
The basic mint julep, which includes spearmint leaves, bourbon, sugar and water, is a Derby classic. About 120,000 typically are consumed at the track on the Friday Kentucky Oaks day and the Saturday Kentucky Derby day, according to Churchill Downs.
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For $1,000, Woodford Reserve fills a sterling silver cup that includes an engraved horse and rider, a gold-plated garland of roses and a gold-plated straw. Laura Petry, Woodford Reserve brand manager, calls it a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
Woodford Reserve says 79 of its $1,000 drinks have been up for sale online at woodfordreservemintjulep.com since April 15. The online sale closes Thursday. Any unsold cups will be available on Derby day at the track. Playboy founder Hugh Hefner purchased five of the mint juleps several years ago.
Woodford Reserve also has had an online auction for nine "Legendary Cups" with a starting bid of $2,000 each. Each of the cups has a gold-plated horse and rider medallion with one-fifth carat of diamonds, as well as the gold-plated garland of roses and straw.
For a starting bid of $5,000, there is the "Golden Opportunity." That one cup: Cup No. 1 among all the numbered ones. It is similar to the $2,000-and-up cups, but it also comes with an opportunity to present the trophy to the winner of the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (the race before the Derby), a tour of the Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Center with a Hall of Fame jockey and a tour and dinner at the Woodford distillery in Versailles, Ky.
The cups aren't presented – and filled – by Woodford Reserve until Derby day.
Deaver enjoyed his mint julep from a Derby souvenir glass this week.
"This glass works just as good," he said between sips.
—By USA TODAY's Gary Mihoces