The Kentucky Derby has been on my bucket list for many years. And this year we got to finally experience it first-hand thanks to our dear friends who invited us to Louisville.
Aside from watching “the most exciting two minutes in sports”, placing a bet, and sipping a cold Mint Julep, there’s lots to do around Louisville before the race and on the day of the Kentucky Derby. If you don’t want to miss all of the excitement and tradition of the Kentucky Derby, here’s just a few things to consider.
Ever wondered where racehorses come from? To get ourselves ready for the race, we visited the Hermitage Farm; the equivalent of a thoroughbred maternity ward and nursery. It’s a world famous horse farm that has been a working farm since the 1800s. The farm takes the thoroughbred fillies out for breeding, keeps the pregnant horses, handles the births, and raises the fouls. We got to meet newborn colts that were as young as two days old! Hermitage Farm has raised Kentucky Derby, Kentucky Oaks, and Breeder Cup winners, as well as international champions and stakes winners.
Parties, Parties, Parties
Derby weekend is all about the parties and socializing with friends. There are plenty of events and galas you can attend all weekend long. We were invited to brunch on Kentucky Oaks day at a beautiful plantation house filled with many elegantly dressed people and fantastic food. There were luxurious tents, delicious deserts, and plenty of Kentucky bourbon.
The Longines Kentucky Oaks is held each year on the day before the Kentucky Derby. It’s the annual race with 3 year old fillies – female horses. If you are planning to attend the Kentucky Oaks, you are encouraged to wear anything you want as long as it is PINK — from hats to handkerchiefs, suits to sundresses, sunglasses to stilettos! This is to honor the Oaks official flower — the Stargazer Lily. Like the Kentucky Derby, the Longines Kentucky Oaks race is one of the longest continually held sporting events in American history, and one of the only horse races to take place at the original site of its inception. The race was established on May 19th, 1875, by the same founder of the Kentucky Derby: Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark. It is modeled after the British Epsom Oaks.
Finally, the day of the Derby arrived! We got all dressed up in our Derby clothes and the ladies in particular were very excited to wear their hats. For half an hour, we took turns taking pictures of each other. It felt like we were going to the prom again!
We boarded a large van that our friends rented to accommodate all of us, and off we went. Once we arrived, we followed the herd of nicely dressed people who proudly displayed some of the most beautiful and craziest hat streams. At last, amid the on-again, off-again drizzle of rain, we entered Churchill Downs.
Derby guests can secure seats in boxes, suites and dining rooms all over Churchill Downs. If you’ve ever seen The Derby, then you’ve probably heard about Millionaire’s Row. It’s the gold standard of luxury seats located on the 4th and 6th floors, with private viewing platforms boasting views of the entire track and finish line. We were thrilled to head up to the luxurious 4th floor. When the doors to the elevator opened, we were greeted to a large room with indoor dining room seating of tables of 8.
It was a parade of ladies with fantastic hats walking around which made for some fun people watching. I found one lady that probably had the biggest hat on the floor, and needed her husband to lead the way because she couldn’t see out of one side. Her hat made my fascinator hat look tiny!
They had a buffet with a large selection of food on display and bartenders walking around taking drink orders. We made our way to our table which was right next to the sliding glass doors leading out to the railings. A few of us ordered some Mint Juleps which are traditionally served in a silver cup. Today, the mint julep is most commonly associated with the Kentucky Derby—a cool, refreshing bourbon based cocktail served up by the gallon during the horse race. Luckily, you don’t have to travel all the way to Churchill Downs to get one.
Even though we were sitting next to the doors, we still had to jockey for a spot on the rail to actually see the races. We sat around eating, drinking, ogling, chatting and placing our bids through a set of races before the Derby race.
When we weren’t standing outside watching each of the races, we watched the close-circuit TV Coverage of the race from indoors and studied our race book to pick the winning horses for the big Derby race. The advice that we were given was to bet broadly on the Derby. If you place enough bets, you might lose money, but you do get the bragging rights of having bet on the Derby winner! Even with this strategy, if a long shot wins, we could have made money. In fact, I did bet broadly but with a near favorite winning, I broke even.
Have you ever been to the Kennedy Derby? Share some of your favorite stories below in the comments.