Tips for going to the Kentucky Derby
This is what I've learned from going to many Kentucky Derbys. If you are making plans to attend next year's Derby, here are my tips
- Ladies, buy your hat first. Then pick out a dress that matches the hat, then the shoes that match the hat and dress. Then the bag. It's easier to find the right dress than the right hat.
- Buy your hat in Louisville at Dees Crafts, or in a Facebook Group for Derby hats. There's no such thing as too big or too fancy. There are a few local stores that sell them too. Do not order a Derby hat from Amazon - everyone will know it's not authentic.
- The weather forecast can be wrong. Dress for anything. Bring sunscreen and a clear rain poncho. You may need both in the same day. It might be 40 degrees and raining or 72 degrees and sunny.
- Buy your Derby shoes at least a week before Derby and wear them everyday to break them in. If you skip this step there's a 100% chance of blisters on Derby Day. Don't spend too much on shoes. They'll look like trash by the end of the day after walking so much.
- Get reservations for hotels and restaurants as soon as you know you are going to the Derby.
- Figure out where you want to sit by doing this virtual tour - https://churchilldowns.io-media.com/web/index.html#
- Get tickets on https://www.kentuckyderby.com/tickets/seating-experiences/reserved-seating
- It's normal to pay to park in people's yards or driveways near the track for $20-50 per car. There is not enough parking at the track for everyone, so you'll most likely park 1/2 mile away.
- Manage your expectations to avoid frustration. There will be long lines for restrooms and food and drinks. Expect it and roll with it. If you don't drive a car, there's also a line for taxis at the end of the day.
- Before you go, watch a YouTube video of the song "My Old Kentucky Home" with lyrics. It'll make the moment more powerful when you hear it at the race. Kentuckians always tear up when this is playing. Click here for a link to a video. The lyrics are almost correct in this video; instead of "the old Kentucky home" the correct lyrics are "my old Kentucky home."
- If you're in the mood for more Derby related song videos, and want to impress someone from Louisville, look up "Run For The Roses" video with lyrics. It's about horses that take chances. Anyone over 40 from Louisville knows the song. Here's a link https://youtu.be/61cceAXnC6w It came out in 1982 and the local TV station would play it every year.
- If you're really, really trying to impress a Louisville friend when you go to the Derby, memorize where Louisville people went to high school. Then when you meet someone from Louisville who says where they went to high school, ask them if they know _____ who also went to that high school. It's how Louisville people connect with each other. They all know at least one person in common, and they usually figure out who by asking where someone went to high school.
- At Churchill Downs (AKA "the track"), you'll see advertisements for a drink called the "Lilly." It tastes like cranberry juice and vodka. It comes in a souvenir stemless wine glass. Bring a purse big enough to take home a glass.
- At the track you'll see advertisements for a drink called the Mint Julep. Unless you already love bourbon... don't do it. Don't get peer-pressured into drinking one for the full Derby experience. It's not the way to try bourbon for the first time. Chocolate covered bourbon balls are the way to try bourbon for the first time. Yes, the Mint Julep comes in a souvenir glass, but you can also get that glass at a store called Kroger tomorrow for $8. Don't force down bad bourbon. If you already like bourbon, then yes, make sure you get a Mint Julep at Churchill Downs for the complete Derby experience. You can just get the regular one though, you don't need to get the $1000 one to have the full experience.
- Sip water once an hour and limit yourself to one Lilly or Mint Julep per hour. Don't be that person in the group that passes out at 5pm from too many Lillys and Mint Juleps. The Derby is run sometime between 6pm and 7pm, and you'll want to be sober enough to remember it. Pace yourself. Trust us. We've seen some bad rookie mistakes in this regard.
- Try these foods while you are in Louisville: a piece of Derby Pie, the hot brown, and benedictine cucumber dip.
- There will be traffic everywhere around the track, downtown, and on Baxter Avenue. Allow extra time to go anywhere, and breathe through it. It will be worth it. It's still going to be a great day.
- It can be hard to get a signal on your cell phone at Churchill Downs on Derby Day. Establish a meeting place with your group of where you'll meet if you get separated walking around.
- There is nowhere to charge your phone, so bring a back up battery.
- Learn the lingo: win, place, show, exacta, trifecta, superfecta, boxing. Here's a page that explains it https://www.ezhorsebetting.com/types-of-bets/exotic-bets-exacta-trifecta-superfecta/
- Learn to read a racing program before you go. It makes the day more fun to know the horses that are running. Here's a page that explains it https://www.gohorsebetting.com/pdf/gohorsebetting-howtoread.pdf
- It's fun to put $2 on the longshot to win and $2 on the favorite to place... just to have a great story to tell.
- 99% of people you will encounter are happy and friendly. Don't be the 1% that gets irritable. Enjoy the day. If you run into an unhappy person, give them some grace, they probably bet on the favorite on the Oaks races the day before and the longshot won.
- You don't have to wait in line to place bets at the betting window. You can place bets using the Twin Spires app (if your phone is charged and you have a cell phone signal)
- When you tell people you are going to the Derby, they will ask you to place bets for them. Unless they give you the money in advance of you going, don't do it. You'll never get paid back for the ones that didn't win. Tell them to download the app. This tip could save a friendship, or at least avoid some resentment and awkwardness... again, trust us on this.
- Try to get into one of the star-studded galas the night before Derby and hang out with celebs. It'll be a great story to tell. Two popular ones are the Barnstable Brown party and Unbridled Eve.
- Make it a goal to meet 3 new friends while you are in Kentucky. There are people here from all over the world who came to smile and have fun, just like you.
You're going to have a great time.