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The Kentucky Derby from a local’s perspective!

The Kentucky Derby from a local’s perspective!


If your bucket list includes a trip to Kentucky to see the running of the Kentucky Derby, you are in luck, because I can share some insider information with you! First up there is some pretty important lingo for you to learn before a visit for the Derby, and I don’t just mean things like trifecta and exactas!

Derby Day

This is a pretty straightforward phrase but I am throwing it in just in case you aren’t totally up to speed on the Derby. The Derby happens the first Saturday in May and has for 142 runnings of the historic race. Derby day is traditionally the day that all of the celebrities descend upon the track to watch the race.

Oaks Day

This is the Friday before Derby day and has always been called Louisville’s day at the Downs (because the race takes place at Churchill Downs, in case I hadn’t mentioned that before). For years this has been the preferred day for the locals to head out to the track and bet on the ponies. However, recently this has shifted, which brings me to…


Now I really shouldn’t be telling ya’ll about Thurby because you aren’t local but I am going to make an exception if we can keep it between us! Thurby has become trendy pretty recently, as in in the last two years or so. Mainly because the Oaks have been increasingly popular and thus more and more crowded. There has always been a standing joke (that really isn’t a joke) that no one in town works the week of Derby because it is a week long celebration. It is truly trending that way. Thurby – Thursday of Derby week for you visitors – has recently started taking the place of Oaks day for the locals. We’ll let you come but only if you don’t tell everyone!

So now that you know what’s what in terms of the Derby, I have some more things to share with you in terms of what to expect.

It is Crowded

I know that the first thing you thought when you saw that was “duh, Allison.” But no, really, it is uber crowded. For a point of reference last year there were 170 thousand people in attendance. While that doesn’t seem like a huge number you need to keep in mind that Churchill Downs isn’t a huge place. You become very acquainted with your neighbor. Elbow to elbow type of acquainted, wear extra deodorant acquainted.

Be Prepared to Wait

There is a lot of waiting. In line to bet, in line for a drink. Most surprisingly I wasn’t aware of the length of time between the actual races. The first time I went to Churchill Downs I placed my bet on the horse that I picked to win the first race, which by the way came in last. Then I eagerly re-positioned myself in my seat, looked over the racing program, placed my bet and waited. Turns out that there is typically 30 mins or longer between races. So while the races themselves are fast-paced, the time in between doesn’t seem to go very quickly. The upside is that there is plenty of time to carefully make decisions on which horse to bet on, refill your mint julep and freshen up in the bathroom.

Go All Out with Your Fashion!

The Kentucky Derby (and the days leading up to the Derby like Oaks and Thurby) is an excuse for you to go wild with your fashion choices. Want to wear the biggest hat that you can find? Go for it! Your date wants to wear his seersucker suit? Game on! The wackier fashion the greater the chance you will see yourself featured on the evening news.

At the end of the day, no matter which event you end up attending, having fun is the most important part! Have you been to Derby?

The Kentucky Derby from a Local's Perspective