Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Guide to the Kentucky Derby

I've seen the Derby on tons of people's bucket lists and I can totally understand why. We went to the Derby in 2012, 2014 & 2015. In 2013 and 2016 we went to Oaks (the day before Derby).. I thought I'd share everything I know about the Derby and Churchill Downs. Obviously 2015's Derby has come and gone but there's always next year - or the next, or the next!
Guide to the KY Derby! Everything you need to know!

Where
Churchill Downs, Louisville, KY.
Since I don't have to worry about a hotel, I don't have a lot of recommendations (but here's a good list). The area that Churchill Downs is in is not the best, so I would recommend staying downtown, the Highlands or in another area if you're planning on being in Louisville for more than the Derby. Lots of people rent their houses out, but it's crazy expensive (as are hotels). If you can stay with someone that will be your cheapest bet, that's for sure!

When

First Saturday of May

How many people

2012 saw over 165,307 people in attendance. 2015 saw 170,513.

How much

General Admission $55 (advance online) $60 (day of) - you're charged a fee online though, so you don't really save any money!
2nd Floor Grandstand $610 for a two-day ticket package including one (1) reserved seat in Section 227 and one (1) ticket to The Taste of Derby, held on Thursday April 30, a food & wine event. Prices do NOT include the $5.00 per seat per day ticketing fees or $25 handling fee)
Luxury Trackside Club $3,400 per person.

Update: the prices increased in 2017 and you can find the info here.

I'm pretty sure most of the people reading my blog will be good old general admission folks, so that's the experience I'm going to be talking about.


Important information

1. Your purse can't be more than 12 inches in any dimension. You can bring a baby/diaper bag, but only if you have a corresponding child with you. Speaking of children: I think it's like bringing your kid to any other event where there is alcohol and gambling. People do it, you won't be the only one, but don't get mad when your kid steps on glass because some drunk person dropped it.
2. No cameras with detachable lenses. No selfie sticks either.
3. No coolers, but you can bring sealed plastic water bottles.
4. Hope for no rain, or take a poncho—no umbrellas allowed. No backpacks either.
5. Gates open early at 8am with post time for the first race at 10:30am. Post time for the Kentucky Oaks is approximately 5:45pm. Post time for the Kentucky Derby is approximately 6:24pm. 
6. Infield folks: No tents, but you can bring chairs using gate 3 only. Blankets & Tarps can only be taken through gate 1 & 3. Get there early.
7. Taxis are not popular in Kentucky. Park far away if you can. Traffic will be a madhouse. 
8. Try not to lose anyone, and don't count on instagramming the day away. Cell service can be spotty.
9. Oaks is the day before and is slightly cheaper than the Derby. Most people wear pink, though you don't have to. You can buy tickets to both days for $80 (in advance).
10. Weather is all over the place - in 2012 it was 80s, in 2013 it rained all day. 2014 was lovely though not too hot, about 73. 2015 was 77 or so and it was gorgeous.
Guide to the KY Derby! Everything you need to know!

Lingo
Furlong: an eighth of a mile. The Kentucky Derby is approx 10 furlongs.
Hand: a measurement equaling 4 inches used to measure the height of a thoroughbred.
Win bet: a wager on a horse to finish first.
Place bet: wager on a horse to finish first or second.
Show bet: wager on a horse to finish third or better.
Exacta or perfecta: a wager on two specific horses to cross the finish line in first and second place in exact order.
Trifecta: a wager picking the first three finishes in exact order.
Superfecta: a wager where you have to pick the first four finishers in exact order.
Scratched: when a horse is scratched from a race, it will not be running. I heard different accounts on whether you get a refund or not if this happens.
Bridge jumper: a person who bets an unusually large sum on a single horse. As in, if they lose they'll be jumping off the nearest bridge.
Guide to the KY Derby! Everything you need to know!


Where to go

General admission can get you into the paddock area or infield. Basically anywhere standing room only. You can walk back and forth in between the areas (and pass all the fancy people in their roped off areas).

The paddock area is basically all concrete and cobblestones. It's slightly more fancy - not by being fancy, just because it has less drunk college kids. You can see the horses walk buy as well. However, 8 hours on those cobblestones hurt and there is nowhere to sit down and it's packed. In 2012 & 2013 we went to the paddock area and it was a good time but my whole body was sore the next day.

Guide to the KY Derby! Everything you need to know!


In 2014 & 2015 we were in the infield, and they were both 10 times better than 2012 & 2013. Yeah, it's not super classy but it's not as bad as I thought it would be. You can bring chairs and relax, the portable toilets are right there. There are also 'real' toilets close by, we rarely use the portable ones. There are parts of the infield that are supposedly more family friendly, but I guess we don't go there.

Guide to the KY Derby! Everything you need to know!


What to eat

You can bring a food in a plastic bag, or box lunch in a clear container, but we had never done it before 2015. This year, we (our friends) brought chips, sandwiches and all sorts of goodies. Plus, you are allowed to bring bottled water as long as it's sealed. Otherwise, there is a ton of food at the Derby. No, you're not gonna get sushi or a salad, it's all pizza, turkey legs, chicken tenders and hamburgers. Nothing wrong with that, it goes well with the beer.

Guide to the KY Derby! Everything you need to know!

What to drink
If you like fruity stuff, I recommend the Oaks Lily. If you like mint and bourbon, go for a Mint Julep. I normally have one or two Lily's and drink Bud for the rest of the day. This year - and I think it's happened in previous years as well - they run out of Bud Light, so we drink Budweiser till they run out of that.

Mint Julep 
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • Sprigs of fresh mint
  • Crushed ice
  • Early Times Kentucky Whisky
  • Silver Julep Cups
Oaks Lily 
  • 1 oz. Grey Goose® Vodka
  • 4 oz. Cosmopolitan Mix

I really love my Lily's.
Guide to the KY Derby! Everything you need to know!

Guide to the KY Derby! Everything you need to know!

Guide to the KY Derby! Everything you need to know!

Of course, you can get other things as well - beer, wine, soft drink, water. You also get fancy souvenir cups with the mint juleps and oaks lily. I don't recommend trying to carry like 10, you will drop them and then you'll have none.

What to wear

This is a mix. I've seen people wear jeans and a tshirt (infield) and people in fancy evening gowns. I like to think I go somewhere in between. Don't forget your hat or fascinator - though it's not mandatory. 

Oh quick tip - don't be 100% on any outfit. The weather is fickle and if it turns out to be a cold day, that romper won't be such a good idea - or if it rains, you might want to wear jeans and sneakers. Just have a backup idea!

I love to use Rent The Runway for dresses, but you do run the risk of someone else wearing the same thing.. Although with 170,000 people, you should be fine. Except if you wear a Lilly Pulitzer dress, then I can almost guarantee that you will see someone wearing the same thing. My black dress was from JC Penney's and my mint maxi was from Francesca's. Both my 2015 and my 2013 dresses were from Rent The Runway.


Guide to the KY Derby! Everything you need to know!

I would highly, highly, highly discourage wearing heels. Seriously, learn from my bad experience. It's never a good idea. I would also recommend a fascinator over a hat. Hats get hot and they bump into people. I would recommend you have a fabulous best friend to make your fascinator because those things are expensive! If you don't have that option, try and plan ahead - they go on super sale right after Derby. 


Guide to the KY Derby! Everything you need to know!

As for guys - I mean, you can see what our husbands wear. It's quite warm and they both hate being hot, so shorts and a polo is where it's at. KC might wear a suit or at least a button down if it was cooler, but there's no chance when it's 70 or above. But plenty of guys do dress up.. Also, plenty of guys end up with their shirts off by noon, so there's that.


Guide to the KY Derby! Everything you need to know!

I gathered a few sneaky pictures of what people were wearing this year.. as you can see, it's a whole lot of everything. Cowboy boots, jeans, shorts, no shirts, hawaiian shirts, fancy dresses, summer dresses, hats, fascinators, beer hats - you name it, you'll see it at the Derby.

Guide to the KY Derby! Everything you need to know!

What to do
Some guy asked us 'what is there to do?' and the answer is... Not much. It's like a big tailgating party, with horses that run by every so often. There is a Vineyard Vines tent that has a band and people cram in there to get free stuff. Other than that, you walk around, people watch, eat, drink, bet. There isn't much 'to do' at the Derby. It's still a fun day though, in my opinion.


Guide to the KY Derby! Everything you need to know!

What to do afterwards
If you are game enough (or sober enough) to go out afterwards, people might tell you to go to Fourth Street Live. I personally would not recommend that because it's for the super young crowd, it's expensive and it's just not my jam. I recommend Bardstown Road - if you are catching a taxi (which is really your only option), ask to be taken to O'Sheas at Bardstown Road. It's full of everyone, from 21-50 (or older!) and around O'Sheas there are plenty of other bars. Lots of live music, DJs, beer gardens, dance floors - whatever you're after, I recommend Bardstown Road.


Guide to the KY Derby! Everything you need to know!


My tips

1. Don't wear heels. I promise, even if you wear heels everyday and can run 6 miles in heels, the Derby will kill your feet. The cobblestones, the standing around, just don't do it. I know my flip flops don't look as cute as heels but guess what? The one year I wore heels, I could barely walk the next day my feet were in so much pain. I am sitting on the floor in the picture below (so classy) because I just couldn't stand anymore. If you think I look miserable, it's because I was.


Guide to the KY Derby! Everything you need to know!

2. Bring cash - and lots of it. The ATM line gets insane after 1pm or so. You will waste 45 minutes or more in that line, to what - wait again in the betting or drink line? Bring more cash than you need. A bud light (in 2015) was $8 and the Lily was $11. A pizza was $8. Add in tips and your money will be gone before you can say Mint Julep.
Guide to the KY Derby! Everything you need to know!


3. Get there early. We've arrived at all different times - after 12, before 12, 10am... the earlier the better. The lines to enter Churchill Downs can be half a mile or longer. Not to mention with 170,000 people around you, it gets a bit crowded and it's nice to be there before that. Because we got there so early, we got a huge patch of grass for our group, people who arrived after 11 had no chance and started setting up on the cobblestones and such.

Guide to the KY Derby! Everything you need to know!

4. Buy your tickets in advance. I know I said above that it doesn't really save you money, it's still a great idea to buy your tickets in advance because then it's not such a huge hit in one go, and you can go straight to the entrance without also having to buy your tickets first. Highly recommend.


Guide to the KY Derby! Everything you need to know!

5. Sunscreen. Sometimes I'm a bit cocky / stupid - I'm Australian, the Kentucky sun can't burn me! Guess what, it can and it has and it will again. Only on Derby though. Bring sunscreen, lather it on several times a day. Believe me. I hope this guy was wearing sunscreen.

Guide to the KY Derby! Everything you need to know!

6. Buy a program and bring a sharpie. Pens don't really work. Programs are good if you want to bet, they are only like $5.

Guide to the KY Derby! Everything you need to know!

8. Place your Derby bets well before Derby. The day itself is called the Kentucky Derby, but race 11 is the actual Derby. There are races before and after the Derby, but the Derby is the big one. Anywho, don't wait until race 10 ends to attempt to place your bets for race 11 - you can line up and the chances of you getting to the betting window before race 11 are so slim it's not even funny. Did I mention there is like an hour in between race 10 and 11? Seriously. This was one of the betting things at like race 7, and we'd been in line for at least 20 minutes already.

Guide to the KY Derby! Everything you need to know!

9. Leave before or well after the Derby. As mentioned above, race 11 is the big one. If you're sticking around, try and wait like half an hour. Leaving immediately after race 11 is insane. We stood in a herd of people, barely moving for like 20 minutes. The tunnels were not designed for 100,000 people to leave at once. Imagine a zillion more people in the below photo.

Guide to the KY Derby! Everything you need to know!

10. Don't drink too much. It's a long day. I have seen it all - sleeping, inappropriate PDAs, passed out in the bathrooms, screaming and fighting, vomiting, climbing the porta potties and falling off... Just don't do it. Be responsible and courteous.

Guide to the KY Derby! Everything you need to know!

Most importantly - Have fun!! Don't stress, go with fun people and have a blast. It's such a fun day!
Guide to the KY Derby! Everything you need to know!

So there you have it - this is all the info I can think of, if you have any specific questions don't hesitate to ask.


Have you ever been or is it on your bucket list?

32 comments:

  1. On my list girl!! You helped us with all the details and great pics!! You looked so gorgeous and cute at the same time!!!

    livingoncloudandreanine.blogspot.com

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  2. Oh, I wish I could go one day. I LOVE how well dressed everyone is. xx


    ALLURE OBSESSED - BEAUTY BLOG // BLOGLOVIN'

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  3. Absolutely LOVE this list! Definitely on my list to get there in the next few years for such an amazing event :)

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  4. my husband wants to go because he thinks they have stands that sell kentucky bourbon there...do they?

    also, GREAT photos!! i went to the local racetrack here with my dad and he won a trifecta. i had no idea what that was so when he sent me to the place where you get your money, they handed me a pile of money and i got so scared that i hollered for my dad because i thought they made a mistake (i was expecting like, $20 back, not that much!!)

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  5. I love this post! Thanks for sharing all of the awesome information :) This one is definitely on my bucket list for someday (sooner than later I hope!)

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  6. I can't even describe how jealous I am that you get to go to the Derby every year! I miss KY sometimes. I want one of those cute little Derby glasses SO bad! FYI I can't believe anyone would bring their baby to Derby. That's just weird. And the people passed out... um. Wow. This is supposed to be a classy event people. Do you not see the fascinators?!? LOL!

    <3, Pamela
    Sequins & Sea Breezes

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  7. I just pinned this post because one day I will go and I will look for this and make sure that I follow all your tips to a T!!! Great post girl! xo, Biana -BlovedBoston

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  8. Wow, this is awesome and so thorough and comprehensive! I also love all the FUN bonus pictures for the visual skimmers (LOL). It's just fun to see what you've worn to past Derbys and what all the other people wear. If I ever go I will also know to FOR SURE bring my corresponding child if I bring a diaper bag! (hahaha!!) Even though said child(ren) don't wear diapers. Hee hee. Luckily I don't require a selfie stick for my OOTD pics!! haha!!

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  9. Love this! I am bookmarking this post for future reference. :)

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  10. This event looks like tons of fun! But holy smokes that is a lot of people! Haha I don't think my claustrophobic self could handle it :( I love looking at your pictures though; all of your outfits have been top notch. SO cute... and those drinks look delishhhhh :)

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  11. This post is awesome. You laid it all out and I love it. I also like the sneaky outfit shots and the people sleeping. I pinned it!

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  12. I would love to go someday! And I love all your tips! I definitely would have worn heels. Ha

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  13. It looks like so much fun and frankly, any excuse to wear a fastener is a good thing in my books :) Do you make your own? I love going to big things like that, it's such a rush being around all the excited people and helps when the weather is nice. And I'm impressed you have the option of bringing your own food. Every festival or such that I've been too makes you buy on the inside which sucks because the line ups take forever

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  14. How fun! This is so perfect and informative. I def needed this!

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  15. That looks like so much fun, expensive but fun! Very good tips. I've never been, but it would be fun to experience it at least once!

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  16. I have never been to the Derby although I have used my ex relatives box seats during the spring meet. It was fun. I can only imagine how insane Louisville gets during Derby time.

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  17. This is such an informative post, so fab!! I so want to go to the derby one day!! So fun.

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  18. What a fun post to read! I've been to Foxfield in Virginia, but that's the only pony race to date. It was a blast - sounds like a smaller scale of this event. $8 beers sounds like a steal! I was thinking they'd be more like $15. And yes yes yes to no heels - not only is it painful, but to have your heels sinking in the grass is no fun either, and it becomes a hazard after a few cocktails!

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  19. Whoa! These are amazing tips. I would have never known. I would LOVE to go to the Kentucky Derby one day. I love the horse races here, but there's something about the "iconic" races that are just really inspiring to me.

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  20. Whoa! These are amazing tips. I would have never known. I would LOVE to go to the Kentucky Derby one day. I love the horse races here, but there's something about the "iconic" races that are just really inspiring to me.

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  21. Not that I necessarily plan to go to the Derby, but you seriously answered so many questions I was curious about! Becky was here the weekend of the Derby so we watched and knew you were there (we totally looked for you on TV ;)) and we had all kinds of questions we knew you could answer. What a great guide. You really thought of everything!

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  22. Amazing guide! I would love to go to the Derby someday just so I can wear a fascinator and look fabulous. You ladies look gorgeous in every picture. I don't even want to imagine being trapped in the tunnels shoulder to shoulder with people. Yikes! That's not my thing, but after a couple drinks I'm not bothered by much ;-) Looks like such a fun event!

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  23. The Kentucky Derby is definitely on my bucket list! So many great tops! Holy crap $3400 for a ticket in the Luxury track?! Good Lordddddd Ridiculous people have that kind of money! Love all of your outfits! I really need to try rent the runway one time!

    <3 Shannon
    Upbeat Soles

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  24. Love this post - what a great guide for people like me who don't know all its about. I hope one day I can visit the Derby!! Thats a lot of people though!!

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  25. I love the Derby through your eyes.
    Being a KY Gal my whole life, I always love hearing everyone's Derby experiences.
    Fun Fact: I won tickets to the derby one year for the MEDIA TENT... free food all day. I gave my tickets to my husband & his friend. Didn't even care to go.

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  26. I'm totally adding this to my Bucket List just so I have an excuse to wear a hat and a fancy dress! I love the derby fashion

    I definitely need to try an Oaks Lily - sounds delish!

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  27. I have never really been much into the Derby or caring about it...but you sure make me want to attend and dress in a hat! I love all your tips and info because I really am clueless about it.

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  28. If I ever go to Derby, promise you won't let anything bad happen to me okay? haha. Seriously though it looks like you guys have such a great time! I'm obsessed with fascinators by the way, and Megan is TALENTED! Wow. Great post lady friend! :)

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  29. Saving this for when I get to go!!!! Thank you for all the tips!

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  30. Sounds like so much fun! You look fabulous every year! I wouldn't want to bring my child (if I had one) but to each their own.

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  31. This is amazing!! Fingers crossed I can be referring to this post next spring!!!

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  32. This was such a fun post! This is something I want to do at least once especially while I live so close to be able to drive and do it...Thank you for sharing!

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