Ten Things to Know before You Go: Kentucky Derby

Are you one of the lucky people heading to this year’s Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve? If so, get ready for one of the coolest experiences you’ll ever have! But if this is your very first year attending America’s biggest horse race, you may have questions. That’s what we’re here for! Below are 10 things you need to know before you go to the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby.

1. Know who’s running in the big race.

Study up on the runners before the big day so you can have a good idea of who you’re going to root for in the Kentucky Derby. A suggestion: check out our Cheat Sheet, which has all the info you need to know about each and every horse running for the roses.

2. Know when everything starts.

The Kentucky Derby is scheduled to run at about 6:50 p.m. ET, but did you know that the gates to the track open at 8 a.m.? If you’re trying to nab a really good spot in the infield to watch the race, you might want to get there that early; also, the first race of the day starts at approximately 10 a.m., so if you want to catch all of the day’s action, make a mental note!

3. Look at the schedule of events to know what you don’t want to miss.

Whether you’ve always wanted to see the famous garland of roses arrive, or if you want to go star spotting on the red carpet, you should check out the Derby day schedule of events. It has the details of all the major happenings down to the minute, so set an alert on your phone for the ones you can’t miss! Even if you’re a Kentucky Derby regular, there may be some things on the official schedule that you’ve never experienced.

4. If you’re driving to the Kentucky Derby, reserve your parking pass ahead of time.

All parking for Kentucky Derby week (including Kentucky Derby day and Longines Kentucky Oaks day) is reserved; so if you want to drive to Churchill Downs, be sure to secure a spot ahead of time. You can also bring cash and park in someone’s yard near the track, which (of course) gets pricier the closer you get to Churchill Downs. Either way, make a plan before you leave for the races!

5. If dressing up is your thing, plan your outfit ahead of time.

So, obviously, you can wear whatever you want to the Kentucky Derby (within reason – there is a dress code for certain areas of the track, and everyone has to wear shirts and shoes; you can see the track’s dress code here) but if you want to dress up, make sure you plan your outfit ahead of time. Throwing together the perfect look the morning of the Derby is tough, and an added stress on a day that should be all about fun. A good rule of thumb for hat wearers is to pick your headpiece first and then choose the rest of your outfit – it’s much easier to build a look around a statement piece than to try to use your focal point as an accessory.

6. We’ve said it before, but we’ll say it again because it’s important: Know what you can and can’t bring with you.

We actually have a whole post about this, which you can check out here, but basically it all boils down to this: Ditch your umbrella – they’re forbidden – and get into that sweet, sweet poncho lifestyle. But, seriously, you might be surprised by what you can and can’t bring to Churchill Downs on Derby and Oaks day, so look at the complete list before you leave the house.

7. You get a free glass with your julep, so plan on taking it home with you!

You get a free commemorative Kentucky Derby glass with every mint julep you buy, so plan on taking yours home after the races. Slipping a plastic bag into your purse or pocket is a great idea here – you don’t want to get into the parking lot only to drop your new favorite memento!

8. Give yourself a betting budget before you go to the track.

Betting is kind of like going out at night with friends or going shopping – plan on how much you’re willing to spend, and then stick to that plan. Of course, unlike a night on the town or a day in the stores, you can definitely leave the Kentucky Derby with more money than you came in with! But plan on spending a set amount betting, and then (if you really want to be prepared) hit the ATM before you go to the track to avoid lines.

9. Walk around Churchill Downs to take in the scene.

The Kentucky Derby is wild – you have about 150,000 people celebrating America’s most famous horse race, and you’d be remiss if you didn’t wander around to do a little people-watching. After all, the Derby is all about big hats, bow ties, and standing out, so take in the scene and appreciate how amazing people look on the first Saturday in May.

10. You’re going to meet some amazing people.

One thing that sets the Kentucky Derby apart from most other major sporting events is that you’re free to move around. Even if you have a general admission ticket, you have the chance to see so many different parts of Churchill Downs. So take advantage of that and meet some new people! Share some betting advice or compare notes on where to get the best cocktails – you’ll be glad you did.