Derby Derby Derby! Honest to goodness, the Kentucky Derby is my favorite part about living in Louisville now that we have experienced our first one. We’ve been to Churchill Downs many times for other races, but when we found out Kevin was off the weekend of the Derby, we decided to invite family and friends and make a weekend out of it!
As a Derby newb, I got a LOT of great advice from Derby pros. My co-workers gave us plenty of great tips and I’m going to go ahead and pass a lot of those on to you.
Let’s get to it!
Do not be afraid to sit in the infield. We decided to do the infield after seeing how ridiculous seats are. I’m talking $300+ for a folding chair (not even a real seat). I was nervous about the infield after stories I heard, but with a little preparation, we had the best time ever. And it only cost us $50!
Do research parking options. You cannot park at Churchill Downs unless you pay for a reserved spot (which, when I checked, was more than $200). I printed a map of the area and made a “parking goal zone.” The route and “zone” helped us avoid road closures and a really long walk. A lot of people pay to park in other people’s yards, which is fine, but we found a legit spot at a church for only $20! Bonus: the people in the lot let us use the church bathrooms and we were able to crack open a few brewskies in the parking lot before walking in. The walk to Gate 3? Less than 10 minutes!
Do bring in necessities. We packed: bag chairs, blankets, snacks, water bottles and sunscreen. Alcohol is prohibited…but believe me, everyone brings it in. I will never confess what’s really in these tortillas. (Cough, minis, cough. I’m a genius, I know.)
Do not get there too late. I think we got such a good parking spot because we pulled in around 10 a.m. The actual Derby isn’t until 6 something in the evening, but we knew we wanted to make a whole day out of it! Since we got there pretty early, right before the first race of the day began, we got a really great spot in the grass and near the ‘nice’ bathrooms. We had a perfect view of the big board, too, which was great since you don’t actually see any horses in the infield.
Do be prepared to run into people you know, who don’t even live in Louisville. We ran into college friends and Kevin’s high school friends at Derby!
Do drink mint juleps. You may think you don’t like bourbon, but you have to order at least one julep. It’s a classic!
Do not stay in the infield the whole time. Your ticket isn’t just for the infield…it’s technically General Admission. Meaning, you can go in the Paddock area! While crowded, it’s cool to see the horses walk by.
Okay so this isn’t really a tip, but I just have to include it because it’s part of my first Derby experience! Our friends who came with us, happened to get last-minute really, really, really good seats from a family friend. They spent part of the day in the infield with us, but part of the day up in their seats. With those good seats, Martha was able to get standing room only passes for the third floor clubhouse. That meant we could go up in the stands, but we didn’t have a seat..they were good for standing-room only. My mom and I decided to wander up and check it out…
We ran into my boss and co-worker friends while we were adventuring. It was so great to pop into their parties for a few minutes. That’s what Derby is all about! Friends, racing and bourbon. Lots of bourbon, my friends.
Alrighty, back to the tips!
Do prepare for crowds. This is a picture of us walking from the grandstands back into the infield.
Do expect to see a lot of interesting outfits. We saw it all in the infield, let me tell you.
This tip is very important…
Do not listen to your meteorologist husband when he says you don’t need the tarp or ponchos you packed because it won’t rain, so you left it in the car. Because if there is a small chance of rain, you best be prepared for it. There is essentially no coverage in the infield…unless you happy to be lucky and are already in the port-a-potty when it starts.
This is Kevin checking the weather. Note the gigantic cloud and pouring rain behind him.
In Kevin’s defense, there was an extremely small chance of rain that day. The little tiny storm that we got only barely hit us. Regardless, it was one quick shower and then it was gone!
Do wear a hat. Not just because it’s fashionable, but because it saved my face from a day of squinting and sunburn. Plus, I took a little catnap in the chair and it was a great way to get some mid-afternoon shade.
My final tips are…
Do make your Derby bet early. The lines for betting in the infield are outrageous and only get worse the later it gets.
Do not worry about not having cell service. My phone worked fine the whole time. The carriers bring in extra towers to boost service.
Do not leave the track as soon as the Derby race is over. It’s a mad dash to the exits and it’s just not worth it. Get one more mint julep and wait it out. There’s still another race after the Derby, too!
Do not forget to pack a cooler for the car after. Traffic after is pretty bad with all the road closures and people leaving at once, so we sat in our chairs by our car and enjoyed one last drink while we waited for traffic to die down.
And that’s our first Derby experience! It was my favorite weekend of the year so far, and I can’t wait for next year already!