The Kentucky Derby is considered the most elite horse races that draws the
largest crowds. For first time Derby attendees, knowing what to expect is
important not just for a great Derby experience but also to avoid any
disappointments. Here is a guide to help you prepare for your first Derby
Getting a Derby ticket will require patience as applying for one does not
usually guarantee you will be receiving one. The applications only get
accepted after each year’s Derby and end on the 1st of Sept with winners being
announced between November and February. When it comes to getting tickets for
the Derby, it is recommended to keep it simple, one can choose to buy the
ticket alone and everything else a la carte on the sport day or opt for the
official ticket package that comes with everything from accommodation and
transportation to food, drinks and many more offers. The Churchill Downs
official site provides for this reserved seat booking and also has unlimited
general admission seating spaces going for $40 based on first come first
served on the Derby Day. Otherwise, tickets can also be bought online from
ticket brokers but do a background check to find out the trusted online
brokers to avoid paying more than the face value of a ticket.
Louisville, Kentucky usually comes to life during the Derby week with horse
racing fans streaming into the numerous hotel rooms around the city. Most of
the hotels near Louisville therefore book really quickly so it is recommended
to start looking for one early enough so that you don’t miss a space. The ones
around Louisville are very convenient as they are about 10-20 minute drive
away from the Churchill Downs. But if they are fully booked, you have a better
chance trying across the river in Jeffersonville which is an hour away or in
When looking into your seating options, you have to decide on how much you can
afford to spend, where you really want to sit and the available seating
options. Naturally, given the nature of the Derby, and the crowd it attracts,
seating is based on the size of your pockets and your influence. The high end
seats are usually found in the Millionaire’s Row, the Turf Terrace and the
Turf Club. Obviously, their occupants are the very wealthy, Hollywood
A-lister’s or the ones who know someone in the horse racing industry. If you
are not in any of those categories then your seating options are limited to
• General Admission– Booking for a general admission seat grants you admission to the infield and the paddock area but you will not have a view of the racetrack. Having a general admission means you may have to be standing most of the time as there are very few benches on the ground floor.
• Infield – the infield is considered a general admission ticket and is considered the cheapest and easiest to obtain. You can buy it on the morning of the Derby Day but if you plan to be on the infield it is advisable to arrive there early, just when the track is opening, to claim your spot as the crowd is often big. The infield is like one big party crowd and there are video boards available for attendees to view the action on the track.
• The Grandstand– This is a step ahead of the infield and has three seating levels that offer unparalleled views of the race. It stretches from the clubhouse to the final turn.
• The Clubhouse– this is the most elite seating area and it defines a dress code. This is where most celebrities sit to watch the race and it starts at the center of the track up to the first bend. If you’re looking to sit where the finish line is, the clubhouse would be a great choice for you.
• The Courtyard– This was introduced in 2015 and is on the track side side although your view is mostly blocked by the one in front of you and the press lined up along the track.
What to wear
The weather is usually quite unpredictable in May during the Derby and the
Kentucky elements are bound to take their toll on you if you are not well
prepared with the appropriate outfit. It is recommended that you dress
according to the weather and take into consideration the fact that you will
spend the day outside and mostly standing or walking. But be sure to look good
as it will help you feel good, which is an important aspect of the Derby
experience. Make sure you’re comfortable, and since you’re going to be out all
day, dress for the outdoors and dress to impress. Many advise to bring a hat,
mostly to protect you from the Derby elements as well as the sun if it’s a
sunny day. Ladies, if you feel the urge to wear heels, be sure to bring
sandals with you since you will be standing and walking most part of the day.
What to bring
Being at the Derby all day means spending so carry cash. You’ll spend on
parking, food and refreshments, betting, and so much more, so bring with you
more cash than you think you’re going to spend to avoid lining up at the few
ATM’s for hours and wasting your Derby Day trying to get more cash. There’s a
list of things not allowed into the track at KentuckyDerby.com so be sure to
You don’t want to have a difficult day at the Derby trying to hold your
bladder while in line for the bathroom visit. You need to plan your bathroom
visits and make sure you anticipate the need to use the restroom before it’s
too late; you’ll have a way better experience in doing so.
If you’re planning on betting at the Derby, it is recommended that you do it
as soon as you arrive to avoid corrupting your gut feelings with the ‘hot
tips’ provided and changing your mind which you are most likely to regret. At
Churchill Downs, betting windows are everywhere and you can always choose the
bets you want to place and drop them at the windows anytime.