Your Guide to the Kentucky Derby

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Held annually in Louisville, Kentucky, on the first Saturday in May, the 2016 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs is May 7. The iconic race is the first within the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing and caps the end of the two-week Kentucky Derby Festival. As the longest continually held sporting event in the country, many know it as “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports.” When you charter a private flight to the Kentucky Derby at Louisville International Airport (SDF), start your trip to the “Run for the Roses” right with a refreshing in-flight Old Forester mint julep or mint-infused lemonade.

What Exactly is the Kentucky Derby?


Photo by Bill Brine

The Kentucky Derby is a Grade I stakes race for Thoroughbreds that are three years old. The race distance is 2 kilometers, or 1¼ miles, on a dirt racetrack at Churchill Downs. Fillies in the race carry 121 pounds, while colts carry 126 pounds.

Twenty horses compete in the race, which first participate at the Road to the Kentucky Derby, a series of 35 races around the world. The top four horses at each race receive points. The 20 horses with the most points earn a spot at the Kentucky Derby’s starting gate. The winning purse is $2 million.

Where to Sleep

Galt House Hotel

Churchill Downs’ official host hotel, Galt House Hotel offers special three-night packages for those attending the Kentucky Derby. The packages include an invitation to the Call to Post Party, complimentary racing programs, vase of roses, access to the fitness facility, overnight parking, and a stay in a Deluxe RIVUE Room, Executive Suite or a Waterfront Balcony One-Bedroom Suite, depending on the package.

Marriott Hotels

The Courtyard Downtown Louisville and Louisville Marriott Downtown are both good choices for upscale accommodations that are close to Churchill Downs.

What to Wear

Photo by Bill Brine

Photo by Bill Brine


The Kentucky Derby is the prime event to see the finest spring fashions. While there are no wardrobe-related rules at the race, there are a few guidelines:

  • Wear spring dresses, bold separates or pastel-colored suits that coordinate with accessories and headware when sitting in reserved areas, such as the corporate hospitality areas, clubhouses and suites.
  • Keep jewelry, dresses and outfits simple so they don’t take attention away from your fabulous hat or fascinator. If you’re ever in doubt about what to wear, check out Vineyard Vines, an official Kentucky Derby retailer that created a line of outfits just for the race. Don’t forget to dress in layers.
  • Hats! They’re what set the Kentucky Derby apart from other sporting events. From traditional to fantastical, there are no limits to Derby hats. The bigger or more creative, the better.
  • Purses must be 12-by-12 inches or smaller. If you have a child in tote, you may bring a diaper bag. It is a good idea to bring a larger bag to carry a water bottle, snacks and a sweater. Also, bring a smaller purse that gives you easy access to your wallet, cell phone, wages and other essentials.

The Kentucky Derby is the perfect opportunity for men to get as decked out as the women.

  • Classic blazers and a polished look are always in style. To turn heads, go for busy plaids, bright pastels, bold stripes or tropical colors. Check out Vineyard Vines if you need some ideas. Pair bright or patterned pants with a neutral-colored, three-button blazer, or vice versa.
  • Choose a dress shirt in a complimentary color. Don’t forget the monogram.
  • Most men wear neckties, but bow ties work equally well for a refined, dapper look.
  • Wear a comfortable pair of loafers. Never wear them with socks.
  • Complete your look with a posh, solid-colored fedora or bowler hat.

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