With the weather in Louisville slowly warming up, and the beginning of April upon us, we local folks are starting to feel that exciting anticipation that comes with the Kentucky Derby and the Kentucky Derby Festival. People come from all over the world to watch the most exciting two minutes in sports, but when you live in Louisville it’s more like the most exciting (or insane) month of the whole year. I personally believe that there are so many genius things about Louisville that you can go through a whole list of them without even touching on the Kentucky Derby or the most legendary horse track that is Churchill Downs. But when the clock strikes April, there’s no overlooking it. So let me break down the Kentucky Derby from a local perspective.
Kentucky Derby Festival
The Kentucky Derby Festival is 3 full weeks of madness. Since people from out of town don’t arrive 3 weeks in advance, these events are attended by local folks who love Spring and love super cool events. The Kentucky Derby Festival officially kicks off with Thunder Over Louisville, the largest fireworks display in North America, and comes to an end with a few days at Churchill Downs during the week leading up to the Kentucky Derby. The Great Lawn and Waterfront Park in downtown Louisville are the main sites for most of the festivities, however there are events all over town. Whether you attend the Derby and Oaks or not, you should definitely attend some of the Derby Festival events!
The Wednesday before the Kentucky Derby is arguably the best day at Churchill Downs all year. The Derby hype is still intact, the anticipation is high, and most of the out-of-towners are already in town for the weekend festivities. There are some incredibly competitive races on Wednesday and you can usually win some good money, plus you get a chance to see how the jockeys are riding as well. You can count on a great crowd, but the number of people isn’t nearly as overwhelming as Derby day. Admission is simple: you can either find some dude out front that is giving away his box tickets, or pay $5 at the gate for a first floor walk around ticket. You want to have fun the way the locals do it? Go to the track on the Wednesday before Derby!
I hate to say it…THURBY
“Thurby” is the Thursday before the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. As much as I dislike the term, the day at the track is actually pretty awesome. This day has been dubbed the local day, but it has gotten so huge, that I actually prefer to go on Wednesday. If you don’t mind the crowd, or if you’ve never been to a “Thurby” (there’s that stupid word again) give it try. Again, you will see great racing, and a peak at the jockeys. There are special bourbon tastings and live Bluegrass music; a little something for everyone. The general admission is a bit higher than Wednesday, but nothing to lose your mind about. A first floor walk around is $15. First floor box ticket is $20. Second and third floor box tickets are $30.
The Kentucky Oaks
The Kentucky Oaks is the day before the Kentucky Derby. A long, long time ago, this was the original day for locals. Now it is Derby Junior, although there’s really nothing junior about it. It is packed with people wearing pink, drinking pink drinks (the official cocktail is the Oaks Lilly), and wearing their fancy hats. This is also the day for the Kentucky Oaks Survivors Parade, a march on the track for breast cancer (hence all the pink). It’s more expensive and a harder ticket to get than the previous few days, but it’s a fantastic Derby Week experience and a place to be seen. You will definitely catch some celebrities on Oaks day as well!
The Run for the Roses
If you are attending the Kentucky Derby, you need to be prepared. It’s hectic, it’s crazy, it’s exciting. College students and other crazies will pile into the infield, while the less insane go with a first floor walk around ticket, or if you’re in the money, I nice third floor box. There’s no doubt that the best place to be on any day at Churchill Downs is in a third floor box around section 317 or 316, but that can cost you some serious dollars. A lot of local people will be so partied out by Derby day that they leave town. Whichever category you fall into, you will want to know the rules and what you can and cannot bring with you to the track.
I hope that you can enjoy your time during this special part of our year. Please be safe!
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