Adding Ownership Excitement to Your Derby Party

Pop Culture

If you’re looking for ideas for your Kentucky Derby party, auctioning off the contenders in the Run for the Roses can add infinite amounts of fun for your guests. This gambling format is sometimes referred to as a Calcutta (popular in several golf tournaments my husband enters). Here are a few pointers for adding this type of merriment to your event.

Create a poster with the entries and the morning line odds. Include a space to write in the highest bidder and the amount he or she paid for the horse. I also provide a program for guests to use as they follow along.


Give each guest a bidding pallet. My Kentucky Derby party mentors gave us each a pallet with our names on it, and guests who had the winning horse in years past had a special horseshoe earring on their paddle.


Begin with the biggest long shot. Provide a brief description of each horse. I give highlights from America’s Best Racing’s Kentucky Derby Cheat Sheet both orally and in the party program. Once that is done, start the bidding with the longest shot in the field. When the bidding is complete for the first horse, note the selling price and owner on the poster. Go on to the second horse with the longest odds and gradually work your way towards the favorites.

In order for all guests to be able to participate, you may wish to implement a rule that everyone can only purchase one horse until the top five favorites.


At the conclusion of the auction, add up your total purse money. I suggest the following payouts:

Win: 50%

Place: 25%

Show: 15%

Last: 10%

In addition to the auction, I also recommend offering a $5 random draw for a horse. Based on the maximum 20-horse field, here are the payouts for this pool:

Win: $50

Place: $30

Show: $20

Adding these two options for horse claiming insures several of your guests will go home with a fattened wallet, and all will relish witnessing history being made while having an invested interested in the outcome. 

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