Also known as “The Run for the Roses”, the Kentucky Derby is held each year on the first weekend in May at Louisville’s Churchill Downs. This year, the big event falls on May 5.
The Kentucky Derby itself is just a one-and-one-quarter mile horse race, over in about two minutes but, as the first leg of the “Triple Crown”, horse-racing’s highest achievement, it’s an important event. Live attendance at the Derby surpasses that of any other major stakes race in the United States.
While the heart of Derby Day is thoroughbred horses and racing, fashion and tradition play a huge part in the event. Men wear sport coats and ties. Ladies dress to be seen in their springtime finest, including flowery dresses and, most importantly, a bright and colorful hat. Large brims, feathers, stripes, flowers and frills — the bolder the hat, the better. The feminine pageantry surrounding the race has become nearly as iconic as the horses on the field.
The big race doesn’t start until almost 6:30 PM, but there will be other races and betting all day long. Arrive early in the day (Churchill Downs gates open at 8 AM), watch a few of the earlier races, sip a few mint juleps, place your bets and allow time for people-watching.
Leading up to race day, Louisville is also host to The Kentucky Derby Festival, a month-long party celebrating the big race with nearly 70 special events. Fireworks, music, parades, fabulous food, hot air balloons, and whimsical events like live bed racing and The Great Steamboat Race on the Ohio River are hallmarks of the festival. Some events require tickets, but many are free.
If your visit allows more time in Kentucky, there are so many things to see and do. From rock climbing, zip lining and spelunking to bourbon tours and bluegrass concerts throughout the state, Kentucky holds something for everyone.
A trip to Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby weekend can be an unforgettable experience! Make it a part of your Kentucky getaway.