How to Go to the Kentucky Derby Like a Pro

The horse is out of the gate, y’all: We’re going to Derby! The rumors are true, dear readers. This year, we are making a hallowed pilgrimage to the Z&S homestead for that most sacred of events: the Kentucky Derby. Thanks to Scout’s momma, we have secured tickets for us and seven of our closest New York crew. There are plenty of Derby — and Louisville — newbies in the bunch. Our to-do list is a mile long (yes, at least 75% of it is food and bourbon). We are so freaking excited.

Early next Thursday morning, we will pack up two cars and start the 12-hour trek Kentucky-ward. Even as locals, we’re not all that experienced in actual Derby-going. We’re all about the festival experience outside the track: the fireworks, the boat races, the hot air balloons, the parties, etc. And we love to frequent the track on summer nights when the living is easy and the lights come on. But, confession time: Scout has actually not set foot in Churchill Downs on Derby day. Ever. And Zelda’s done it all of once…at age 11. Now that’s mostly because Churchill Downs on D-Day isn’t so much for locals as for tourists — Oaks is our day — but this May, we’re excited to brave the throngs of be-hatted racegoers that fateful Saturday and go full Derby.

Now, though we may technically be novices at the race-going part, growing up in Louisville does make us more informed than most. So this week we’re sharing our to-do list, should you want to make the pilgrimage yourself.


The Outfit: Securing the perfect Derby outfit is a must. From the hat to the shoes, this is the first thing to think about when prepping for the big day. Here on the blog, we’ve got tips for dapperness and for hat hunting, and you can never go wrong with florals or seersucker. For shoes, choose comfort: Go with flats or wedges, because unless you’ve secured some millionaires row seating, you’re going to be standing for most of the day. And whatever you do, do not let your head go unhatted.


Weatherproof: Louisville weather is notoriously fickle, and spring is especially persnickety. And with the yoyo-ing weather patterns we’ve had even in New York this past month, we can’t imagine what mood swings Derby City may have in store. All bets are off, weather-wise, on the first Saturday in May: It can rain, it can snow, it can be hot AF. So prepare for all occurrences (okay, you probably don’t have to prepare for snow, but still). No umbrellas are allowed at the track during Derby Week, so you may want to purchase a few disposable ponchos for your crew. And definitely make sure you’ve got sunscreen.


Booze: Drinking is an integral part of the Derby experience. And you should definitely make sure you’ve perfected your mint julep recipe before you go (we have many, many opinions about juleps). Now the track will sell you all the juleps you want, in souvenir glasses to boot. But if you’re looking to get sloshed (or at least to remain comfortably buzzed through the all-afternoon event), you may want to take matters into your own hands (or thighs, or bra, or shoe). While the horse racing takes center stage, the secondary sporting of Derby day at the track is figuring out how to sneak in booze from the outside. Not that we would ever do that…because we definitely wouldn’t do that.

Food: Speaking of not spending all your hard-earned cash on refreshments (have to save some for betting, after all!), box lunches are a time-honored tradition for a day at the track. Churchill Downs’ rules state that all food must be in clear plastic bags or containers. Non-alcoholic drinks are ok, too, as long as they’re in plastic bottles — sealed, clear and unopened. Many of our favorite Louisville establishments offer their version of the Derby box lunch; the Cheddar Box and Paul’s Deli are our favorites (get the Burger’s Market chicken sandwich — you will not be sorry!).


Stats: Now we all have our ways of picking horses: by the colors of silks, our favorite jockeys, the horse’s name, etc. But whatever metric you prefer, it’s good to go into the day with as much information as possible. You can get a program at the track on the day of the race with stats on past performance, notes from handicappers, and basically anything you could want to know. But if you want to study up beforehand, just pick up a copy of the local newspaper; the horses, silks, jockeys, and post positions will all be listed for your perusing pleasure. Also, this being 2018, you can find the info on the Kentucky Derby website.


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