7 Ways to Celebrate the Kentucky Derby Like a Local

We are a week away from the 143rd running of the greatest two minutes in sports. In Louisville, the Kentucky Derby isn’t just two minutes on the first Saturday in May, but two weeks of festivities leading up to the big event.

The Kentucky Derby Festival kicks off with the largest fireworks show in the country (creatively named Thunder Over Louisville). The next two weeks are dotted with events such as a marathon and minimarathon, a hot air balloon race, a parade, concerts, parties and galas – all setting the stage for the big race.

To the rest of the world, the day before the Derby is a normal Friday. In Kentucky, it’s an actual holiday. Children don’t have school and I’m pretty sure most people don’t work.

You don’t have to skip work next Friday to get ready for the big day. Here’s how to celebrate the Run for the Roses like a local:

Make a Mint Julep…

Think Mojito with bourbon instead of rum. For this classic Derby drink, all you need is bourbon, water, simple syrup, crushed ice and mint. One tip: don’t wait until the day of to get your mint. I have found myself empty-handed or forced to choose from the picked over mint leaves on too many Derbies (this is not exclusive to Louisville grocers. For most of my adult life I have celebrated the Derby in cities other than Louisville.) juleps

If Bourbon Isn’t Your Thing, Try a Lilly

While the Derby is the highly touted event, the Friday before hosts the fillies’ (lady horses) equivalent. Of course, it has to have its own official drink, which is a Lilly. Basically a Cosmo but swap the lime juice for Triple Sec.

Throw on a Hat and Your Sunday Best (But Better)

Dressing for the Derby is an event in itself that requires proper planning to not only look fabulous but to feel it too. Post time (when the race starts) is just before 7pm. Yet most festivities begin 10 hours earlier around 9am with a festive brunch. Once at the track, Churchill Downs is mostly an open air facility that requires a lot of walking. Attire must consider the day’s conditions while rocking shoes that won’t kill your feet and headgear that stays put. The dress that itched a bit when you tried it on at the store? It will itch a lot by 5 o’clock. The gorgeous show stopper hat the size of a sombrero that you just had to have? It might knock someone out (seriously, this is real. The Downs gets crowded). In recent years, fascinators have become popular (and people look amazing in them!), but I’m old fashioned and still love a great hat.

Sing Along to My Old Kentucky Home!

If you’re not a native, chances are you won’t cry when Stephen Foster’s My Old Kentucky Home lyrics hit: Weep No More, My Lady! But don’t judge when you look around and see natives fighting back tears. Have they had too many juleps?! Maybe. Or it could be that we’ve been singing that song since elementary school. It’s hard to get through it on any day of the year without getting a little verklempt.

Pick a Winner

I’m not encouraging actual gambling because I understand that is illegal. But I am suggesting putting all of the horses’ names in a hat, let everyone draw a pony and scream your head off for two minutes. Seriously, it’s fun to pick a horse and it’s fun to cheer it on. Other ways to pick a horse: how pretty the silks are, the horse’s number or its name. Some times I choose based on the trainer and / or jockey, but then I might actually win the money in the pot.horse_racing

Hold Your Own Race

Last year we were faced with how to make the Derby family friendly. I spotted our stick ponies in the kids’ playroom and got an idea. First, we made our own silks out of old file folders (I removed the metal prongs. As a mom to boys, I have to have eyes for potential weaponry). Then we headed to the street for our races (lots of races). It provided entertainment and giggles while conveniently burning off little boy energy right before bedtime.


Our “Derby” horses before the big race.



Bake a Derby Pie

While there is only one real Derby Pie (and apparently the family has done a lot to keep it that way) there are lots of yummy knock-offs. This recipe happens to be the same as the one I’ve been using for years, except mine adds 1 tablespoon of bourbon. Note: if you use the normal frozen pie crust which comes with two in the package (not the deep dish) – it’ll yield two pies instead of one. One can be used now and the other can be stored in the freezer to be enjoyed at a later date.

If all else fails, wear this for a little extra fun.

Happy Derby! Let me know if you have any Derby traditions!



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