The Kentucky Derby - The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports
The Kentucky Derby is held on the first Saturday in May each year at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. The Derby is the first of the three races that form the Triple Crown (along with Preakness and Belmont), and has been run since 1875. As a bonus, in addition to Saturday's Derby, the Kentucky Oaks, a race for three-year-old fillies, is run the Friday of Derby weekend.
It is difficult to describe the electricity at Churchill Downs just before the bell rings, as 140,000+ fans anticipate the start of the most exciting two minutes in sports. Suffice it to say that people who go once tend to go back again.
The Derby is well known for the high-society crowd that
graces the grandstand during the Run for the Roses. Tickets to the
grandstand (not the infield) sell out early, and can be requested by writing to: Churchill Downs Special Events 700 Central Avenue Louisville, KY 40208
700 Central Avenue
Louisville, KY 40208
Requests must be received by September 1 for the following year's Kentucky Derby. You will be sent an invoice after October 1 if your request can be filled.
To buy Kentucky Derby grandstand tickets now, click here.
The grandstand for Friday's Kentucky Oaks sells out as well, but infield tickets are available for $50.
The following items are permitted to be brought into Churchill Downs:
The following items are banned from Churchill Downs on Derby and Oaks days:
Because of the restrictions, a "general stores" will be set up on the infield selling items such as food, drinks, coolers, and other items. Surprisingly, the items for sale are sold at reasonable prices, comparable to outside stores.
Tickets to the infield must be bought at the gate; you cannot get them in advance of race day. The price in 2011 is $40. Infield tickets provide access to the infield only; you cannot get into the grandstand itself, although you can wander through the tunnel and reach the lobby area of the grandstand.
Gates to the Derby infield open at 8AM; the infield is a zoo, a party of mythic proportions. The more hard-core partying is in turn three, with the areas near the finish line and turns one and two more mellow by contrast (see pictures above). The drink of choice is the Mint Julep, which is basically bourbon whiskey and ice with a mint sprig; click here for a great recipe. And of course, plenty of beer is consumed.
You cannot bring any alcohol into Churchill, and with the new security measures put in place starting in 2002 (see above), it is futile to even try. The piles of beer cans and liquor bottles confiscated at the gate are impressive. If you have a bag, it will be thoroughly checked.
Kentucky Derby Travel Information
Flights into Louisville tend to fill up rather quickly, especially from other racing hotbeds such as New York and Baltimore. Book your flight as soon as you know you're going.
Hotels in and around Louisville during Derby weekend sell out early. You can find a few up to a month or two before the race, but in general all hotels require a three night stay. Book early if you plan to stay at a hotel.
You will want to stay as close to town as possible; cab rates during the weekend are increased substantially, with the blessing of the taxicab commission. A rental car is probably the best way to go if someone can stay sober.
For the die-hard, an alternative to hotels is not to get one. Plenty of Derby fans arrive at the gate as early as 3AM the morning of the race to grab the best infield areas. You can show up with a blanket and sleep on the street; if it rains, there is a drive-in bank right next door that provides plenty of cover (trust us, its been used).
Alternatively, fly into Louisville the morning of the race and fly out that night. There are plenty of cabs to and from the track, and as long as your flight is 8:15 or later in the evening, you have enough time if you leave the infield immediately after the race (mail in your winning tickets for payment). For flights after 9:00, you have enough time to hang around a bit.
Future Kentucky Derby Dates
The Derby is always held the first Saturday in May.
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