There are only a handful of truly bucket list-worthy spectator sporting events held in the United States each year. These occurrences transcend the sport itself; attending and enjoying the experience is thrilling even if you don’t follow the particular sport.
When it comes to fun, pomp and circumstance, the Kentucky Derby can’t be beaten. While most sporting events begin and end within a few hour’s span, the Kentucky Derby, despite the race itself lasting just around 120 seconds, is more of a multi-day party. The Derby is always held the first Saturday in May, and the day before is Kentucky Oaks Day. Since all advance reserved ticket and seating packages are good for both days, the Oaks is attended by almost every out-of-towner who makes the trip.
Besides being one of the more important happenings in American horse racing in its own right, the Oaks is a dress rehearsal for the main event with the same pageantry, suits, ties, dresses and fancy hats (yes, you will need two days’ worth of headgear). Whatever seating you end up with, whether it’s in the reserved grandstand section or a VIP lounge, you’ll be in the same place both days, so the Oaks gives you the chance to know where to place bets, get drinks, eat and hit the bathroom, so Derby Day itself goes like clockwork. Many Louisville locals actually prefer the Oaks, which gets 90 percent of the crowd and fervor without the infield Spring Break scene. Both days feature an atmosphere that is an unmatched combination of elegance, sophistication and outright crazy entertainment.
Then, there are the balls and parties. Taste of the Derby is a fantastic food event featuring notable chefs such as Top Chef season four winner Stephanie Izard and Top Chef season six finalist Mike Isabella held the Thursday night before the Oaks. The Julep Ball is the big pre-Derby black tie fête on Friday night and a great, although less-known, event is the Winner’s Party, held right at the track in the Kentucky Derby Museum immediately after the big race. Limited tickets to most of these are available to the public and, along with the two days of racing, you suddenly have a festival that started last night and doesn’t end until Sunday evening. Any extra time you have in between festivities can be well spent enjoying downtown Louisville.
Churchill Downs still has tickets available for both races. You can go general admission in the infield with no planning. Of course, this means no designated seat, long lines at the public betting windows and bathrooms and a smidge of overall discomfort, seeing as how the crowded area can get very hot because there’s no shade. It’s also pretty much guaranteed that every respectable hotel in Louisville is now sold out. Still, some good seats, rooms and everything else are reserved for packages — a much better way to set up your once-in-a-lifetime weekend anyway. With one call, sporting event travel companies like Derby Experiences can get you seats in swanky open-bar VIP sections such as the Turf Club, Millionaires Row or the Secretariat Lounge; rooms at otherwise sold-out hotels such as the Galt House (the official property of the race); super-convenient ground transportation; à la carte add-on tickets to the aforementioned balls and parties; plus, extra bells and whistles such as scheduled paddock tours on the famed track.
Photo Courtesy of KentuckyTourism.com