HAT TRICKS: Horsing around at Denver Mini Derby at Stanley Marketplace

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AURORA | There were hundreds of hats, dozens of tiny hooves and at least 5,000 candles in the wind at Stanley Marketplace in northwest Aurora this weekend.

If that means nothing to you — outside of excessive amounts of Elton John — check out season three, episode 16 of “Parks and Recreation.” That may clear a few things up.

The city’s freshly christened gastronomic and retail bazaar in a former aviation manufacturing facility played host to the first-ever Denver Mini Derby May 6, complete with mint juleps, well-starched outfits and myriad miniature pets.

More than 1,000 people were estimated to have attended the event, drawing equine and canine enthusiasts from across the metro area.

Dave Neumyer, a 37-year-old construction project manager from Denver, said the party was the first such Kentucky Derby-themed event he had attended.

“It seemed like a fun event, and it was one of those things where one person said they’re doing it with two friends and then all of a sudden 12 of us agreed to do it,” he said.

Neumyer, clad in slacks, a collared shirt and sports jacket, added he bought a new outfit for the festivities at Destination XL in Aurora — though he was slightly more practical in his wardrobe choice than other attendees who went the more ostentatious route.

“When I went and bought this outfit I said, ‘Listen, it’s for a derby party, but I want to be able to wear this crap again, so don’t sell me something that I’m never, ever going to wear again until next derby,” he said with a chuckle.

Neumyer said he has visited Stanley about a dozen times since the facility opened late last year. He also helped with asbestos abatement at the site through his job.

Outside of the general public, the mini derby also attracted a variety of Front Range horse and dog owners, the majority of which were contacted through social media or networking organizations for specific breeds.

Kate Neafus of Parker brought her two American Miniature Horses, Squirt and Elf, to the event with her father, Dan, after seeing it advertised on Facebook. Both horses competed in a non-competitive Mini Horse race on the lawn beside the building.

“I sent them an email and said, ‘Hey, do you need any more minis?’” Kate said. “So, I brought them out.”

Rob Rushing, manager at the Denver-based bone marrow donation group Love Hope Strength, agreed to bring his two corgis to Stanley after hearing the event would feature a breed-specific race of the small dogs.

One of Rushing’s pooches, Erk — short for the Erskine — won two heats of the short-distance race inside the old airplane hangar. Erk’s brother, Harold, came in second in one of the heats.

The Denver Mini Derby was a collaboration between The Hangar at Stanley, the massive entertainment bay on the western edge of the hulking building, and Patrick Culligan, co-founder of Eleven Creative Services, a Denver-based marketing and event planning firm. Bryant Palmer, a spokesman for Stanley, said the Stanley crew knew Culligan through mutual friends, and worked with him to jointly crafted how the derby festivities would unfold.

The Kentucky-themed affair also served as a “beta test” of Stanley’s recently approved entertainment district, which uses a state law to create portions of the marketplace that can serve as common consumption areas of alcoholic beverages, according to Mark Shaker, one of the chief Stanley developers.

Shaker said the Stanley team is in the process of dialing in those areas on a permanent basis.

Aurora City Council signed off on the concept of the so-called Westerly Creek Entertainment District earlier this spring.