Louisville, Kentucky Derby (photo via Rick Rowland / Flickr / Creative Commons)
Even if you’re not a sports fan, the first Saturday in May should be a bucket list item on your travel to-do accomplishments.
Because that’s the day that the greatest thoroughbred horse race in the U.S. is run – the Kentucky Derby.
The Derby is just as much a spectacle as it is a sporting event. There are numerous races throughout the day leading up to what is known as ‘The Greatest Two Minutes in Sports.’ But the entire day is about dressing up – men in colorful suits, women in fancy hats, and all of them sipping mint juleps.
Here’s what you need to know if you’re traveling to Louisville for the annual Kentucky Derby.
Flying into Louisville’s Muhammad Ali International Airport is a breeze. Allegiant, American, Breeze, Delta, Frontier, Southwest, Spirit and United all fly into the city.
Brace Yourself for Sticker Shock
The Kentucky Derby is no different than any other big event like the Super Bowl or the World Cup or the Daytona 500. Hotels jack up their prices. Restaurants jack up their prices. Parking near the track is difficult so many attendees use ride-sharing, and even those can be three, four and five times more than what they usually charge.
Don’t Lose Your Tickets
Once you arrive at the famed Churchill Downs racecourse, do not lose your tickets. There are outer gates at the facility where you have to flash those prizes, but you need to show them to get a colored wristband that matches the section at the track you’ll be sitting in. This is to prevent people from trying to upgrade their seats.
Visit the Paddock and Then Place a Bet
The annual ‘Run for the Roses’ at Churchill Downs is the Triple Crown’s marquee event. (Photo via Flickr/Bill Brine)
Getting an up-close look at some of the most incredible creatures in the world is a stirring experience. Thoroughbred racehorses are simply magnificent, so do visit the paddock area. And do place a bet. Trust us, it makes the races that much more fun to have a rooting interest, especially for the Derby itself.
Bring Lots of Cash
While Churchill Downs does accept credit cards at some venues that sell merchandise, cash is king at this track. Bring it – lots of it. You’ll need it for everything from food, beverages to placing a wager.
Bypass the Infield if you are 30 or Older
This is just our opinion, but secure an actual ticket and a seat in the grandstand. The infield is for the younger crowd, who tend to treat it more like a party. No, check that. They treat it more like a rager. If that’s your thing, knock yourself out. But if you want to avoid fights and vomiting and to actually see the races, sit in the stands. That’s not to say the infield is all bad – if you are still looking for a ticket on race day, the infield is your way in.
Panchos Are Important
Churchill Downs does not allow umbrellas. Bring a pancho if it rains. Early May can be chilly and wet. Or it can be humid and hot. Just give it a minute.
Have a Plan
More than 150,000 people attend Derby Day every year. It’s quite possible you’ll get separated from friends and family, especially if you’re not sitting together or just meeting up. Be sure to pick a good location for a meeting point.
Barrels of Maker’s Mark bourbon. (Photo via TyMaloney / iStock Editorial/Getty Images Plus)
Do get out and see Louisville if you are in town for more than a day or two.
The city has a rich history. Be sure to take one of the Bourbon Trail tours, as this is where ‘Kentucky Sippin’ Whiskey’ originated.
Louisville also has robust outdoor activities and, if the paranormal is your thing, it has several ghost tours – including one that is adults only.