Growing up, I spent a lot of time at the barn with my horse, Tully. We competed together, hung out in huge, grassy paddocks together, and grew up together. If I had a bad day at school, sitting in Tully’s stall braiding his mane or just sitting nearby was where you’d find me.
I loved everything about being an equestrian, from waking up at the crack of dawn to jump into my tall boots and get out to the stables to start caring for Tully to getting thrown off his back time and time again as we tried to jump a new height during a lesson.
I’ve always loved horses, so going to the Kentucky Derby has been something I’ve wanted to do from a very young age. I kept my Kentucky Derby “lucky coin” that was given to me by a family member who had attended America’s great race in my hunter green show jacket for years.
Whether you’re a lover of horses or just want to go experience the greatest two minutes in sports, the Kentucky Derby is something everyone should have on their bucket list. Its glamour, tradition, and thrill make it absolutely unforgettable.
Though I will say, as one who grew up in south Florida riding horses, it has been a dream come true to get to go home to places like Louisville and Lexington where it is true horse country.
There are many different routes to take when considering how to do the Kentucky Derby. I have been twice, and bought tickets to the infield both times. This is a different setting than buying seats in Churchill Downs, and I will share all you need to know to be able to make your decision on going all out and getting seats, or saving some cash and heading into the infield for the most dressed up tailgate you’ll have ever been to.
Here’s how to do the Kentucky Derby from my experience:
What to Know About Attending in the Infield
You can either go all out and buy a seat to have an amazing view that looks out over all of Churchill Down’s glorious kingdom. It’s the greenest grass you will ever see in your life at the property. However, these start around $200.
Tickets to the infield are $80, and can be purchased even outside Churchill Downs on the day of. Keep in mind that you can save about $10 by buying online ahead of time. The infielders are admitted from outside of Churchill Downs by getting tickets scanned, and then continue to walk down through a tunnel and arise on the inside of the track of the races.
You’ll find plenty of tents of sponsors, like Vineyard Vines, as well as tents for food, drinks – mint juleps! – and betting. These people for sure know how to do the Kentucky Derby.
Something to know, however, is that there just aren’t good options for food. I was pretty disappointed with being able to choose from nachos, a hot dog, a philly cheese steak sandwich, and a turkey leg. I’m not necessarily a picky eater but it would have been nice to have some nice options to go with the fancy occasion!
Drinks run about $11 for a mint julep or a lily. There is a different bourbon sponsor that is the official mint julep partner each year, and this year was Old Forrester’s. They are absolutely delicious!
What to Wear to the Derby
The attire “dress to impress” doesn’t even begin to cover it. You will do some awesome people watching, as there are all types of colors, patterns, styles, and most importantly, Derby hats!
Kentucky Derby hats are the most speculated accessory. You want yours to be unique and out there. Really, the rest of your outfit is just the accessory to your Derby hat. This also goes for men – you’ll see all types of crazy hats and headpieces for everyone alike.
The most important thing to to wear to the Derby is comfortable clothes. I have been on the verge of wearing heels or wedges both times that I have been to the Derby, but last minute decided against it, which was very wise. I advice wearing shoes that you can walk around in all day.
May in Louisville is usually very hot – Florida hot, believe it or not – but this year it ended up being chilly (in the 50’s) and rainy! If you get unlucky like I did this year, bring a poncho to throw on top of your fabulous outfit in case dark clouds start moving over you. Also be prepared for some serious mud. Not the loveliest of weather, but definitely wear some closed to shoes and nix the wedge or heel idea, for sure!
Best Place to Watch the Races?
The starting gate. We went back to our secret spot that we uncovered the first Derby we attended that is right in front of the starting gate. It’s a perfect viewing spot because you can see the horses jolt out of the gate while getting a full view of the excitement going on in the stands of Churchill Downs. You also get to see the horses twice since they come back around to speed to the finish line!
I hope this helped give you an idea of what to expect and how to do the Kentucky Derby. In addition to the Derby, there’s a lot to see in Louisville, Kentucky!
Before and After: Things to Do Around Louisville
The Bourbon Trail
You can’t go to Kentucky and not go to a bourbon distillery. Even if bourbon isn’t your liquor of choice, touring the distillery grounds is a really neat experience. There is so much history since these places have stood for around 100 years (or more!).
Woodford Reserve is my personal favorite. Most of the distilleries are red brick, but something about driving up to Woodford’s grey stone buildings through the Lexington-green, rolling hills takes my breathe away every time. Plus, this tour offers the most thorough tasting (and pairing with chocolate!).
Buffalo Trace Distillery is a close second favorite. Their tour is of their premises is the most educational, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s free! You also don’t need to make a reservation ahead of time. We were able to walk right up the day before the Derby and only wait 30 minutes for the next tour.
The Big Four Bridge
Downtown Louisville is a neat sight to see. There’s a lot of restaurants and bars, like Garage Bar, which is just what it sounds like – an old garage that’s been turned into a hip bar.
The walking bridge, known as the Big Four Bridge, is neat because so many people are out and about crossing over the state lines when it’s nice outside.
You always get a great view of the Louisville skyline. You can cross off another state off your list by just walking 20 minutes over the Ohio River to Indiana!
Louisville Slugger Stadium
You see this when you drive downtown, and it’s an impressive stadium! There’s a Louisville Slugger Museum for the die-hard baseball fans, and also a great gastropub, Against the Grain, in the stadium with delicious snacks and craft beer.
Hungry after all of that sight-seeing? Harvest is located right downtown, only a 5-minute walk from Angel’s Envy distillery. It is all locally-sourced, and all-around delicious.
With all natural lighting and trendy, cozy decor, it’s the perfect place to enjoy some upscale southern cuisine.
How do you do the Kentucky Derby?