The Kentucky Derby For Louisville Residents

It’s not called the fastest two-minutes in sports for nothing! The Kentucky Derby is probably the most iconic event in Kentucky, and one of the top events in the United States. After all, even the Queen of England has attended a “running of the roses.” As a Louisville resident, this sporting event is in your backyard. Visiting the Derby one of the must-do events in Louisville. Before you go, brush up on Derby history and insider tips by reading on.



History of the Kentucky Derby

The first Kentucky Derby took place in 1875, making it the longest-running sport event in the United States. Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr., the grandson of famous explorer William Clark, founded the Derby and Churchill Downs. His travels in Europe and visits to horse racing venues like Epsom Downs inspired him to build the racetrack. Clark envisioned a venue that would serve as a gathering place of Louisville’s most stylish residents.


The first Derby had a 15-horse field of three-year-old thoroughbreds racing 1.5 miles. Jockey Oliver Lewis rode the winning horse Aristides to a finish in 2:37.75.


Complaints about the distance in the race’s early years led the Derby to be shortened to 1.25 miles, the same length used today.


Martin “Matt” Winn is credited with transforming the Kentucky Derby into America’s iconic horse race. He brought in a new system of placing bets, added French pari-mutuel machines, and started inviting celebrities to the races to attract the public. He advocated broadcasting the race on the radio, which it did for the first time in 1925. The Kentucky Derby made its national TV debut in 1952.



What to Know if You are Attending the Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby adheres to many long-running traditions. One of the most well-known is the singing of “My Old Kentucky Home” as the horses parade onto the track before the race start.


Mint juleps have been associated with the Kentucky Derby for years. Traditionally it is made with Kentucky bourbon, sugar, mint, and crushed ice. With 120,000 served during the event, it’s worth trying one for the experience.


Meriwether Clark started the tradition of giving the winning jockey roses. A New York sports columnist gave the race its “run for the roses” nickname in 1925. The race owned the moniker and started in the 1930s bequeathing a garland of roses over the winning horse.


Fashion has been integral to Clark’s vision of the race and Churchill Downs. That tradition continues today, with people-watching as much part of the sport as horse-watching. The thousands of spectators don hats ranging from stylish to downright fantastical. Derby tip: Have fun with your attire, but do check the forecast ahead of time. The Derby has experienced it all, from snowflakes to rain to blazing sun.


The best viewing spots on the infield are at a premium. Gates open on Derby day at 8 a.m., with the first race about 10 a.m. If you decide to go for the infield, arrive early to stake out prime turf along the fence. Remember to bring sunscreen and sunglasses, but umbrellas are not permitted.


A general admission ticket won’t get you a reserved seat or space on the infield, but you will be able to partake in all the festivities as well as get close to the horses as they warm-up and cool-down.


Instead of waiting in the lines, use the Churchill Down app to place bets on your phone. You can also order food, and in some cases, get in-seat food delivery.



Kentucky Derby Weekend Activities

Over 170,000 spectators gather for the event each first Saturday in May. Naturally, all kinds of events have popped up to keep visitors entertained for the entire spectacle.


Not everyone realizes the Kentucky Derby is one race in a three-day event that includes the Kentucky Oaks. Visitors can buy single-day tickets for Thurby, Friday’s Kentucky Oaks, and Saturday’s Derby, or a ticket bundle for access over two or three days.


The weekend kicks off Thursday with the Pegasus Parade through downtown Louisville. On Kentucky Oaks day, the festivities include the Survivors Parade, a parade of breast and ovarian cancer survivors. Lookout for supportive pink everywhere on Friday.


The most famous–and desirable– off-venue event is the celebrity-packed annual Barnstable Brown Gala on Derby eve. The party has been called one of the 10 Best Parties in the World by Condé Nast. It benefits the University of Kentucky’s Barnstable-Brown Diabetes Center.


Even if you don’t land a ticket to this invite-only event, the onlookers set up along Spring Drive to gander at the famous arrivals. Or, get tickets to one of the other official parties, like the Fillies & Lillies Party, Unbridled Eve, and The Trifecta Gala. All events have entertainment, drinks, and cuisine.



The Kentucky Derby and Louisville

The Kentucky Derby is one of the Louisville events that make the city a special place to call home. Make attending one part of your Louisville resident bucket list and spend some time learning about Louisville’s unique neighborhood and culture. And, when you’re ready to make a new “old Kentucky home,” talk with our local Louisville home builders.



Contributed to Your Home blog by Casey McKenna-Monroe

Looking for more tips, ideas or inspiration? Return Home here.

Published 12.29.20

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