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The Kentucky Derby Weekend – The Most Exciting Horse Race

The Kentucky Derby Weekend – The Most Exciting Horse Race

DESTINATIONS, LUXURY TRAVEL, UNITED STATES

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.

The Foals

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.

 Hermitage Farm, Kentucky photo Carmen's Luxury Travel
Hermitage Farm, Kentucky
 Hermitage Farm, Kentucky photo Carmen's Luxury Travel
Hermitage Farm two week old Colt, Kentucky

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.

Kentucky Oaks Party photo Carmen's Luxury Travel
Kentucky Oaks Party
Mantel filled with Kentucky Derby Mint Julep Silver Cups
Mantel filled with Kentucky Derby Mint Julep Silver Cups

Kentucky Oaks 

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.

Kentucky Oaks 2017 Silks Colors And Patterns Photo: US Racing
Kentucky Oaks 2017 Silks Colors And Patterns Photo: US Racing
Kentucky Oaks - Photo: Churchill Downs
Kentucky Oaks – Photo: Churchill Downs

Derby Day

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.

The 143rd Kentucky Derby
The 143rd Kentucky Derby

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.

The 4th Floor Millionaire's Row lounge
The 4th Floor Millionaire’s Row lounge

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!

Comparing our Kentucky Derby hats at the 4th Floor Millionaire's Row
Comparing our Kentucky Derby hats at the 4th Floor Millionaire’s Row

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.

Mint Juleps Drinks at the Kentucky Derby
Mint Juleps Drinks at the Kentucky Derby

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.

Waiting for the next race on the 4th Floor railing of the 143rd Kennedy Derby
Waiting for the next race on the 4th Floor railing of the 143rd Kennedy Derby
Waiting for the next race at the 143rd Kentucky Derby
Waiting for the next race at the 143rd Kentucky Derby
The band playing on the field of the 143rd Kentucky Derby
The band playing on the field of the 143rd Kentucky Derby

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.

The winning horse "Always Dreaming" at the 143rd Kentucky Derby
The winning horse “Always Dreaming” at the 143rd Kentucky Derby

Have you ever been to the Kennedy Derby?  Share some of your favorite stories below in the comments.

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About the author

Carmen Edelson is the Founder of Carmen's Luxury Travel. Carmen has been traveling the world for over a decade. Our travels allows her the opportunity to pursuit her itch to travel to the best luxury destinations, and experience those first class tastes from around the world.

28 Comments

  1. Carol Colborn
    June 8, 2017 at 6:15 am
    Reply

    We were there in 2011 but never got to attend the parties! Must have been awesome!

    • Carmen Edelson
      June 12, 2017 at 6:00 am

      Now you have a reason to return! 🙂

  2. Cindy Ladage
    June 8, 2017 at 6:51 am
    Reply

    I loved love the fashion aspect ‘

    • Carmen Edelson
      June 12, 2017 at 6:00 am

      Me too – it’s so fun!

  3. Evelyne CulturEatz
    June 8, 2017 at 12:51 pm
    Reply

    Wow that is an expereince. I am not sure it is something I would like but I adored reading your psot, seeing all the pomp and circumstances. The hats are awesome! And I do love a mint julep 🙂

    • Carmen Edelson
      June 12, 2017 at 6:02 am

      Thank you for reading! The mint juleps are delicious.

  4. Holly
    June 8, 2017 at 7:21 pm
    Reply

    I have always wanted to go to the Kentucky Derby. So cool you got to go. Looks like an awesome experience. Hopefully one of these years.

    • Carmen Edelson
      June 12, 2017 at 6:03 am

      It definitely was an awesome experience! I hope you get to go, Holly.

  5. Jose Allen
    June 9, 2017 at 11:23 pm
    Reply

    I have the small trip to go to the Kentucky Derby in next month. It looks the amazing place to go. Can’t wait anymore.

    • Carmen Edelson
      June 12, 2017 at 6:03 am

      I hope you have a great time, Jose!

  6. Jean
    June 11, 2017 at 4:48 am
    Reply

    Oh this does look like a lot of fun. I do love a day out at the races. Any excuse to get dressed up. Your race day dress is just perfect. Bright and colorful

    • Carmen Edelson
      June 12, 2017 at 6:09 am

      It’s very fun and exciting all around! I loved the bright colors too 🙂

  7. danik
    June 11, 2017 at 4:32 pm
    Reply

    I have to admit, the most exciting horse race has got to be the Grand National in Liverpool, UK with all its history, horse problems, the fences….(sorry, used to gamble a lot) 😀 😀 😀 But if I ever did get to that part of the states, I would do a bet (if that state allows it). 😀 😀 😀

    • Carmen Edelson
      June 12, 2017 at 6:09 am

      Never been to Liverpool but it sounds like fun!! Thanks for sharing. I think you’d love the Kentucky Derby.

  8. Natasha
    June 12, 2017 at 3:53 am
    Reply

    I have never done anything like this before. It looks like a wonderful and enjoyable day out. I bet it is so exciting being all dressed up!

    • Carmen Edelson
      June 12, 2017 at 6:10 am

      It was very exciting! I had a fabulous time.

  9. I remembered Kentucky Derby because of those hats. I haven’t seen a horse race in real life but definitely interested. Those parties sure do look fun!

    • Carmen Edelson
      June 12, 2017 at 6:10 am

      It was so much fun! Thanks for reading, Darlene 🙂

  10. Divyakshi Gupta
    June 13, 2017 at 3:25 am
    Reply

    This seems like so much fun! The hats are the best 🙂 So creative and fancy!! Totally an occasion to dress up 😀 I am sure you had a great time!

    • Carmen Edelson
      June 13, 2017 at 9:09 am

      A great time was had by all! Thanks for reading, Divyakshi 🙂

  11. Suruchi
    June 13, 2017 at 3:59 am
    Reply

    First time I have a read post on the horse race and it seemed like an awesome experience. Those hats and fascinators are really really pretty. Will love to see this is real life for sure. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    • Carmen Edelson
      June 13, 2017 at 9:09 am

      You’re welcome! I hope you get to experience it too 🙂

  12. RaW | Ramble and Wander
    June 13, 2017 at 5:49 pm
    Reply

    I’m more familiar with Epsom Derby in the UK but I’ve heard of Kentucky Derby as well. The experience must have been electrifying. Love all the hats! Haha! I notice the dress code for guys is not as strict as Epsom Derby, btw.

    • Carmen Edelson
      June 15, 2017 at 10:10 am

      Oh interesting! I’ll definitely check out the Epsom Derby, thanks for sharing 🙂

  13. Vicki Louise
    June 14, 2017 at 1:02 am
    Reply

    I’ve been to Australia’s equivalent of the Kentucky Derby – The Melbourne Cup – and loved it. I imagine the atmosphere at the Kentucky Derby would be just as electric!

    • Carmen Edelson
      June 15, 2017 at 10:11 am

      I’m sure it’s just as exciting! I’ll have to make note of the Melbourne Cup, thanks for sharing 🙂

  14. Genie Patra
    June 14, 2017 at 10:05 am
    Reply

    I have a friend from Kentucky and her Derby Days photos are always so cute! I love the over the top hats that people wear. I think it’s a great excuse to get all dressed up with your friends haha

    • Carmen Edelson
      June 15, 2017 at 10:11 am

      You’re right, it’s such a great excuse to dress up!

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