LOCATION: Churchill Downs. Louisville, Kentucky
This year is the 141st year for the Kentucky Derby and I managed to get myself and three of my girlfriends a ticket to attend this grand affair.
The race is known for being the fastest two minutes in sport and is the first race of the Triple Crown races. After Derby, there follows Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes, and the winner of all three races will be the Triple Crown. The Derby is the only of these races to run consecutively since 1875. The Derby seems to be more known for their traditions than anything else. The Mint Julep is one tradition that has held strong since the start. A drink consisting of bourbon, mint and sugar syrup has been served in souvenir glasses since 1939. Another tradition is the attire where men wear bright pastel suits and women wear colorful dresses and large lavish hats.
My friends and I decided to do the combo package and attend Oaks day and Derby and I’m really glad we did as both were two completely different experiences. Kentucky Oaks is a race for 3 year old female horses and is held the day before Derby. Traditionally, the event asks that attendees wear pink attire to represent lilies as well as their partnership with breast cancer organizations.
All around the event were pink accessories to really brighten up the area. I decided to wear a gray and pink polka dot dress with a cylinder disk hat I found on ebay. It seemed to work for the unique factor I was going for. We arrived around 11am and the event seemed really chill and just people walking around or relaxing on the lawn. The drink of the day was the Oaks Lily and consisted of vodka and a fruit blend with a blackberry on top.
It was really good and also came in a souvenir glass for only $11. Not bad! The races were about every 30 minutes and helped to make us familiar with the betting strategies and basically what to expect for Derby the next day. We mainly walked around the infield and people watched. The infield was so large that we didn’t even know we could get to the grandstand area, otherwise known as millionaire row since it is so pricey to sit over there (most tickets are around $1500 a piece).
After asking a bunch of employees, we found out that we could take a tunnel to the other side and see the Paddock area where they have the horses right before each race. About 30 minutes before a race, they bring out the horses and present them around a small courtyard. The trainer and owner usually walk with the horse several times. I’ve seen horses before, but these were so sleek and fit. They were extremely beautiful. Even though it is crazy crowded to see the horses, I recommend coming to this area and checking it out. The earlier in the day, the better so you can get up close.
We arrived to this event around 10:30am and it was already packed. People were sitting everywhere. We decided not to take chairs this day and just use a blanket, which was an excellent call since it was hard to walk around with so many people. I decided to wear a long black, blue and white dress with a hat that I made on my own, with the help of mom and dad. It was a black hat with white and blue flowers and a large peacock feather stemming off of the top. I also had a blue bird and bee attached to the peacock feathers, making it one unique hat to wear.
Apparently the press thought so as well as I was photographed and commented on everywhere I went. As we arrived, we decided to check out the grandstand area more since we found out about it late yesterday. Millionaire row definitely had a completely different culture than the infield did. The infield consisted of beer, burgers, pizza, and loads of drunk people. A lot of people wore nice outfits and hats, but there was a good amount of people that didn’t dress up at all. The infield mentality was to party. The grandstand area consisted of champagne, lobster salad and posh souvenir shops. The people on this side had some elaborate dresses and hats and most of the photographers stayed over there to get the best photos. Some of the best hats and outfits were on this side and people really put a lot of attention to them. It was a lot of fun to see all the “costumes”.
The mentality of this side was to mingle with the rich for sure. We made it to red carpet area where all the celebrities enter, but got there super early as not many people were walking it. We did manage to see Star Jones, but decided not to stay longer since we had some races to see.
Finally, after being squished through endless crowds we made it back to the infield side. I finally ordered my first mint julep and was ready to return it. I’m not a big fan of bourbon and the drink is HEAVY with it. No wonder so many people were drunk!
I had a few sips and gave the drink to Lina and went back for another Oaks Lily. Mint Julep, you are not for me! We decided to sit down and plan out what horses we were going to bet on.
I decided to just do the Derby race, which was number 11. Something I did not know about Derby was that there are several races on the actual day, but only one is the actual qualifying race. Today’s event consisted of 13 races with Derby being at 6:30pm. Another interesting fact is that the event is called Derby, not THE Derby. So, you can’t go around and say “who are you betting on at the Derby”, you have to say “who are you betting on at Derby”. It is actually pretty hard not to say the derby, try it and see! Krista decided to pick horses from races 9 and 10 as well, which is something I recommend doing next time because it really involves you in the race and makes it more fun. Race betting is somewhat confusing as you have to pick several different options. I decided to place a bet on race 11 for American Pharoah #18 TO WIN. However, I could place bets for horses to be in several different orders. A bet for Win meant your horse would come in first. A bet for Place meant your horse would come in first or second. A bet for Show meant your horse would come in first, second or third. And a bet for Across the Board meant you were using all the bets of place, show and win. Those were just the beginner wagers, it can get even more complicated than that with exacta, trifecta, superfecta bets. My head was spinning for sure. We decided to get in the betting line to place our winning tickets.
The line was long and took about an hour to get through. When you get to the window, you need to be ready to place your bet correctly. For my bet, I needed to tell the lady that I was betting on race #11, $10 to win on horse #18. After placing our bets, we found a good spot and watched the remaining races. Since it was now 4pm, people were starting to get extremely drunk. A lot of people were passed out and there was trash and broken glass absolutely everywhere on the ground. One group in front of us decided to lift up their passed out friend and attempt to put him on top of the port o’potty. It didn’t work well though as it collapsed, and he fell to the ground. Infield likes to party, remember!
Race 9 and 10 came up and Krista won on both of her bets. It was much more exciting having something to root for and made the event more fun. I highly recommend betting as much as possible. Finally at 6:30pm it was DERBY time. Everyone really got into it as the fastest 2 minutes in sport came up.
The race started and we all rooted for our horses. It was very intense and neck and neck as #18 would get into first place, then third, then first and then second and finally coming in first and winning.
Krista and I both bet on him to win and were super excited. It definitely made the experience much better to know that I placed a bet on the winning horse. I only received $39 as a payout, but worth it!!
We finally left the stadium around 7:30pm and got to the parking lot at 7:45pm. There were so many people leaving that we were stuck waiting in the parking lot. Finally, after an hour and a half of waiting, a cop drove by on a quad and let people know that the holdup was because some guy fell asleep behind the wheel while waiting in line. We managed to get a different way out of the parking area 2 hours after leaving Derby. Just shows how crazy it really gets there!
Do I think this is something worth experiencing? ABSOLUTELY. Would I do it again? Probably not. But I do see having some Derby parties in my future, especially now that you can bet live on a Derby app. Definitely a fun weekend!
These are a few helpful tips we came up with along the way.
Wear pink for Oaks day. Take a big blanket, as it gets annoying carrying a heavy chair around especially when crowded. Walk everywhere! Both sides are so different and there is a lot to see. Bring in your own food, it will taste better and save money. Head to the Paddocks area to see the horses early on as it gets crowded fast. Buy souvenirs on Oaks day as they sell out fast. Make a big embellished hat, the people there love it. Do not wear heels, you will regret it. Park at cardinal stadium and walk half a mile. The shuttle is $15 and not worth the 10 minute walk it takes. Definitely bet on some races as it makes it way more fun to root for a horse. Figure out your bets early and place them all at once to avoid constantly standing in long betting lines. Avoid taking little kids because it gets very overwhelming with drunken crowds. Bring lots of cash, vendors & betting windows will only accept that and ATM machine lines are long. Read up on how to bet as it can be somewhat confusing but really isn’t that bad at all.
*Thanks Lina, Krista and Katie for accompanying me on this adventure!
WOULD I DO IT AGAIN?: I really enjoyed seeing all the outfits and hats, however Oaks Day was very relaxing and Derby was not. Therefore, this was probably a one and done for me. I do think it is definitely worth an experience. Super amounts of fun!
HOW TO DO THIS: Tickets for Oaks and Derby combo were $90. Parking at Cardinal Stadium was $20. Tickets and info available at www.kentuckyderby.com