So you want to go to the Kentucky Derby? A word to the wise, this is not for the faint of heart and may not be what you would consider a “family friendly event”.
We went in May 2012, a 35 year dream in the making for me. You can read about our experience here.
If, after you read our account, you still are interested in going… here’s the low down on how to make the most of your derby day. Keep in mind, we were woefully unprepared and hoping to spare you the same ordeal. The *’s indicate the things we DID NOT HAVE and desperately wished we did!
Like all things, preparation is the key to success.
You should bring:
- WATER, WATER and more WATER! (We brought 4 bottles … for 11 of us;)
- A Cooler of Ice (preferably on wheels) – f/t campers don’t have coolers!
- An Easy Up or Awning – You’ll need shade – and you’ll need to bring your own .
- A roll of Caution Tape – we were able to beg some small strips of this
- Folding chairs – nope
- Blankets – 1
- Hats (Fabulous Ones for the Gals – Absolutely! Straw for the Fellas)
- Sunglasses – forgot ‘em!
- Sunscreen- heck no, that’s for sissies!
- Rain Ponchos – amazingly yes!
- A ton of snacks – yup!
- Wear rain boots but bring Flip flops
- Baby wipes – thankfully yes!
- Hand Santizer -would have been nice!
- $$$$$CASH$$$$$$ – yup!
- Decks of cards – nope
- Games for kids, crayons, coloring books, a ball – nada!
DO: Buy your tickets online and print them at home. There are an unlimited number of $40 infield tickets sold for the derby, but they’ll cost you $50 at the ticket booth!
DO: Get the majority of your party and all your stuff dropped off at the gates and then send the driver to park. They should be able to park about a mile away from the gates for $10 for the entire day. The closer you get, the more you’ll pay, with $50 spots right down the block from Churchill Downs.
DO: Get to the ticket boots at 7:30am – the gates open at 8am and you want to be among the first in the turnstiles.
DO: Send a scouting party out; Send two people from your party with the roll of Caution Tape to block out an area right by the gates on Turn 1. These individuals, should be able to quickly go through the tunnel and make an immediate right when they get to the infield. Get to the gate and stake their claim with a large enough “Caution Tape” square to comfortably fit your entire party and all your stuff. It’s 10 and a 1/2 hours (yes, you read that right… you arrived 10.5 hours before the actual Kentucky Derby) until the Big Race and you’ll want your space to keep your sanity.
DO: Set up your area and settle in, it’s going to be a LONG day!
DO: Check out the booths in the infield. We got free sunglasses, free stickers, hats, a free picture, and tons of stuff.
DO: Stalk the press – what’s the point of being at the Derby if you don’t make the paper ;0
DO: Get a Mint Julep and a Lily. You’ll go home with souvenir glasses and be able to check these crucial items off your bucket list!
DO: Get a program.
DO: Make all your bets at once. As the day progresses the lines go from 5 mins to over an hour to place your bets. Making them all at once will save you tons of time – as will cashing in all your winning tickets at once.
DO: Make friends with your neighbors. They will serve as your troops when the late comers start eyeing your prized real estate… just when your patience starts wearing thin around hour 8 in the broiling heat and relentless sun.
DO: Encourage your kids to take a nap.
DO: Explore other areas of the infield. You’ll be amazed at what you find!
DO: Consider not betting on the Derby itself. Keep in mind, if you win, you’ll have to get on an hour long line to collect your winnings. Makes you wonder how many people forgo their $6, $8 or even $20 winnings.
DO: Look on the ground for money. Odds are good you’ll pick up more money than you’ll win on the ponies.
DO: Have an AWESOME TIME and Cross the Kentucky Derby off your Bucket List with a THICK BLACK MARKER!
The Kentucky Derby is really an experience of a lifetime – so enjoy it and move on to your next big item!