Our resident event planners Marcella Kragel and Ina Miller are crazy-busy around this time of year, but they get just as excited as everyone else about all things Derby. Here, they share their favorite rituals and resources for our city’s special season.
The most important thing to remember about Derby, whether you’re an event planner or not, is to pace yourself. As we locals well know: Derby is a season, not just a day. Go too hard, too fast and you won’t make it to the finish line.
What we’ve learned about Derby is that everyone has their own must-do, must-see and must-eat list for this time of year. Here are some of our favorites that you might want to add to your own.
While many locals pass on the main event at Churchill Downs in favor of parties around town, some do still partake in the marathon days of Oaks and Derby or Thurby. If you do decide to make the trek to the track on Friday or Saturday, here are our best pro tips to help you survive.
Park on the grass. Yes, it is weird to park on someone’s front lawn, packed in like sardines for wads of cash, but trust us: At the end of the day, you will be thankful you did. The homeowners around the Downs know what they’re doing and will take good care of your car.
Pack flats. No matter how close you are lucky enough to park, you will walk, and walk, and walk all day. Those flip flops or flats will be your best friend come
Bring a boxed lunch. Yes, Churchill Downs has awesome food, but on Oaks and Derby Days, the lines are long. Spend your time queuing in the betting windows and not in food lines by allowing a chef to prepare a gourmet boxed lunch for you to enjoy. This is a specialty offered by most local restaurants and cafes and it puts a personal spin on your day. Call your favorite neighborhood eatery and just ask!
Practice bid etiquette. The pressure is on when you get to the front of the line. The proper way to state a bid is race number, dollar amount, type of wager and number of horse/horses. We suggest writing it down if you are a newbie. And don’t forget: Don’t throw your ticket away until results are final and always tip your attendant.
Always get a Julep. While we prefer the Oaks Lily to the Mint Julep. Ordering one is a must, if only for the glass and nostalgia.
Derby Party Pro Pointers
If you want to skip the track and throw your own party, here are some details to keep in mind for the perfect festive Derby Day at home.
It might be all about the bourbon on Derby Day ,but start guests off with Bloody Marys and Mimosas for a little variety.
Roses everywhere! It works for the Derby winner; it will work for you too.
Grab a few inexpensive hats to have on hand for guests that forgot, or out-of-towners who didn’t know you were serious when you said you have to wear one.
Make sure to have a betting pool for the big race. It’s always more fun when you have money on the line and a horse to cheer on.
Menu Item must-haves include local favorites like Beef Tenderloin with Henry Bain sauce, Pimento cheese and Benedictine sandwiches, Cheese Grits, and of course, our favorite, Kern’s Kitchen’s Derby Pie. Granted, we do believe in eating Derby Pie all year long, but it tastes even sweeter on that Saturday in May.
Seven Can't Miss Events
1 Give A Day – Mayor’s Week of Service, April 14-21.
This annual week of service creates opportunity for locals to give back to the city that gives us so much. Help our city put its best foot forward for all the out-of-towners by showing we are a kind, compassionate and forward-thinking kind of place.
2 Thunder Over Louisville, April 21.
The ceremonial kick-off to Derby season is not only one of the largest fireworks shows in the country, but also one of the most beloved by locals. Now in its 28th year, it is a tradition not to be missed. Whether you watch from the Science Center, Waterfront Park, The Galt House or your secret parking spot, it’s an event that makes you feel like you just hung out with the entire city.
3 Ken-Ducky Derby, Waterfront Fest-A-Ville, April 28.
Where else can you witness 30,000 rubber ducks barreling down a river to give one lucky individual the chance to win a new car! And all the proceeds go to benefit individuals with disabilities at Harbor House of Louisville. Need I say more?
4 Cherokee Art Fair, Cherokee Triangle, April 28-29.
Featuring over 200 booths in one of the city’s most beautiful neighborhoods, this art fair is routinely ranked as one of the country’s best. You are sure to find something one-of-a-kind that fits your budget, and the bratwurst and beer are cheap and delicious.
5 Taste of Derby, KFC Yum! Center, May 3.
Mingle with horse racing superstars while sampling dishes from culinary superstars. A portion of proceeds support Dare to Care Food Bank in their efforts to ease hunger in the Louisville area and Sullivan University’s Scholarship Fund. This year will feature live entertainment from Underground Social Club.
6 Blade and Bow: A Stitzel Weller Affair, Stitzel Weller Distillery, May 4.
Presented by Garden and Gun Magazine, this stylish event drips in southern charm. In the unparalleled setting of one of Louisville’s most storied urban distilleries, guests are invited to enjoy innovative cocktails paired with an elegant lawn dinner. Music and ambiance complete the night.
7 Unbridled Eve, The Galt House Hotel, May 4.
Another great option for Derby Eve, and this one is also too good to pass up. In its sixth year, Unbridled Eve is known for attracting celebrities, both local and national. It is one of the premier see and be seen events in the city, and all for a good cause. Blessings in a Backpack is the event’s primary beneficiary for the second year in a row.