If you’re one of the lucky people heading to this year’s Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve, get ready for an unforgettable experience! After a couple years of spectating from home, this year is sure to draw in plenty of first-time attendees in addition to the seasoned pros who’ve had a few years off. No matter what category you fall into, attendees new and old can benefit from the top nine things you need to know before you go to the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby.
1. Get to know who’s running in the big race.
Whether you plan on betting or not, it’s always fun to have a horse to root for in the run for the roses. Study up on the field of horses before Derby Day so you can have a good idea of who you’re going to cheer on and why. A suggestion: keep an eye out for our Kentucky Derby Cheat Sheet Presented by TwinSpires in the next few days! There, you can find all the info you need to know about each and every Derby contender.
2. Familiarize yourself with the schedule.
The Kentucky Derby is scheduled to run at 6:57 p.m. ET, but the gates to the track actually open about 10 hours earlier, at 9 a.m. Whether you’re headed to the infield to nab a great vantage point or want to arrive with plenty of time to take in the scene, make sure you keep up with the Derby day schedule of events so you don’t miss a thing. Pro tip: if there are certain races you’d like to watch, set an alarm on your phone as a reminder!
3. If you’re dressing up, plan your outfit ahead of time.
Although you can wear whatever you want to the Kentucky Derby (within reason – there is a dress code depending on what area you’ll be in), if you want to dress up, make sure you plan your outfit ahead of time. Throwing together the perfect look the morning of the Derby is tough and places an added stress on a day that should be all about fun. A good rule of thumb for hat wearers is to pick your headpiece first and then choose the rest of your outfit – it’s much easier to build a look around a statement piece than to try to use your focal point as an accessory.
4. Know what you can and can’t bring with you.
So that you don’t have any surprises on Derby and Oaks day, be sure to look at the complete list before you leave the house. Some quick do’s and don'ts include:
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5. If you’re driving to the Kentucky Derby, reserve your parking pass ahead of time.
All parking for Kentucky Derby week (including Kentucky Derby day and Longines Kentucky Oaks day) is reserved; so if you want to drive to Churchill Downs, be sure to secure a spot ahead of time. You can also bring cash and park in someone’s yard near the track, which (of course) gets pricier the closer you get to Churchill Downs. Either way, make a plan before you leave for the races!
6. You get a free glass with your julep, so plan on taking it home with you!
You get a free commemorative Kentucky Derby glass with every mint julep you buy, so plan on taking yours home after the races. Slipping a plastic bag into your purse or pocket is a great idea here – you don’t want to get into the parking lot only to drop your new favorite memento!
7. Make a betting plan before you go to the track.
First, set a budget and stick with it! Then, sort out how you’re planning on betting – cash or online? If you prefer to deal in cash, we recommend bringing your own money to avoid lines at ATMs around the track. Alternatively, online betting on a platform like TwinSpires is a great route to go if you prefer betting from anywhere. If you don’t already have an online account, be sure to sign up for one ASAP because it can take a few days to process!
8. Walk around Churchill Downs to take in the scene.
The Kentucky Derby is truly something to behold – you have about 150,000 people celebrating America’s most famous horse race, and you’d be remiss if you didn’t wander around to do a little people-watching. After all, the Derby is all about big hats, bow ties, and standing out, so take in the scene and appreciate how amazing people look on the first Saturday in May.
9. You’re going to meet some fantastic people.
One thing that sets the Kentucky Derby apart from most other major sporting events is that you’re free to move around. Even if you have a general admission ticket, you have the chance to see so many different parts of Churchill Downs. So take advantage of that and meet some new people! Share some betting advice or compare notes on where to get the best cocktails – you’ll be glad you did.
10. Take advantage of a thrilling week of events in Louisville.
If you’re in Derby City a few days before the big race, there are many concerts, parties, and other events on the calendar. Buy a Pegasus Pin for $6 and that will get you into all events in the Kentucky Derby Festival held each year the week leading up to the Oaks and Derby, including concerts at Waterfront Park. And don’t miss the first “Texas at the Derby” concert held on Derby Eve, May 6, at The Pointe venue in the Butchertown neighborhood. This VIP concert from Kustom440 Entertainment features Nashville country music artist Randall King.