The Kentucky Derby is one of the most iconic events in sports—as much of an elegant party as it is a world-class horse race. Staged on the first Saturday in May, the Derby brims with a long list of traditions that enhance the ambiance (not to mention a long list of pretty amazing hats!)
But you don’t have to be a horse racing aficionado to enjoy tuning in to the excitement, the color and the pageantry that is the Kentucky Derby—in fact, Derby parties large and small are held just about everywhere to watch the action on big screen TVs. Nothing, however, beats the sheer adrenaline of being one of the approximately 160,000 people who fly in from around the globe to witness one of the most expensive displays of horseflesh in the world.
This year’s Derby falls on Saturday, May 4th, with most Derby goers arriving the previous Thursday to settle in with drinks and dinner at places like Jack Fry’s or Z’s Oyster Bar and Steakhouse. With a couple of days to the races, visitors can take a steamboat cruise on the Mississippi River or visit the famous Louisville Slugger Museum, the Muhammad Ali Center or spend the afternoon touring the Maker’s Mark Distillery. And if you didn’t come hat-ready, there are plenty of pop-up shops that set up during Derby Week ready to sell you a beautiful topper or feathers and flowers for your wide brim boater.
Ready to go to watch the horses go Running for the Roses? While there are still tickets available on the official Kentucky Derby site, most hotel rooms in the area have been sold out for weeks. You can still find a package or two, especially if money is no object (hotels only reserve a minimum of three nights during Derby Week). We just checked and there were still a limited number of “Exacta Package” rooms left at the famous Galt House, the Official Host Hotel of the Kentucky Derby, for $1,125 plus tax per night—with a host of extras, of course, plus you get to rub elbows with owners and other Derby luminaries.
If you’re headed to Louisville, congratulations! We know you’ll have a fabulous time. If you’re just catching Derby fever, allow us to give you a few more basics about this most celebrated sports event. Use them for the trivia party this Saturday, and ladies: don’t forget your hats!
- Known as “The Run for the Roses” and “The Fastest Two Minutes in Sports,” the Kentucky Derby is one of America’s most celebrated sporting events. First run in 1875, the Derby is held each year at Churchill Downs track in Louisville, Kentucky, and features three-year-old Thoroughbred horses running around a mile and a quarter track.
- As far as the weight, colts and geldings can’t carry more than 126 pounds, and fillies can’t carry more than 121 pounds. Jockeys account for about 115 pounds of that weight.
- There is a maximum of 20 horses in the Derby. Each year, more than 400 horses are nominated by their owners for the Derby, yet only the 20 horses that have won the most money in the winter’s biggest races will earn the right to run.
- The Kentucky Derby is actually only ONE race on a full card of horse racing. There are 13 races on race day and the Kentucky Derby is the 11th race. First race is at 10:30 AM, and the approximate post time for the Derby this year will be 6:24 PM.
- Opened in 1875, Churchill Downs serves as the site of the Kentucky Derby. Located on Central Avenue in south Louisville, the track seats about 50,000, but crowds reach more than 150,000 on Derby day with infield standing-room-only.
Run For the Roses
- The winner of the race is presented with a blanket of more than 400 red roses by the governor of Kentucky, a tradition that started in 1883. In 1982, singer Dan Fogelberg debuted the song “Run for the Roses” to pay homage to the race and the award, though the nickname originated in 1925.
- No mention of the Kentucky Derby is appropriate without referring to the Mint Julep, which contributes to the Old South Derby atmosphere. Comprised of bourbon (preferably Kentucky bourbon), mint, and sugar syrup, this refreshing drink is served in a souvenir glass with listings of all the previous Derby winners.
- One of the most awe-inspiring moments at the Derby happens when all the fans join in to sing Stephen Foster’s “My Old Kentucky Home” with accompaniment by the University of Louisville marching band. The tradition started in 1924. Words can be found in the Derby program you’ll get at the track.
Great Kentucky Derby Horses
- Secretariat holds the record time with 1:59.40 in 1973. The largest wins were by Assault in 1946 and Whirlaway in 1941, each horse won by eight lengths.
- The Derby is the first leg of the Triple Crown, which is three races over a month and half, kind of like a really long NBA championship series. If a horse can win all three races in the Triple Crown, it’s a pretty big deal. No horse has done it since 1978 when Affirmed won it all, so there will be lots of speculation if any of the horse can do it this year.
This year, the Boston Marathon bombings have affected things at Churchill Downs as well, so you might want to check this list of What to Know Before You Go. And don’t forget to tuck your SkyMed medical evacuation services membership in your clutch—it’s peace of mind you’ll be happy you have should you need it!