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Enjoying Kentucky on Derby Day

Updated on January 18, 2016

Kentucky Derby


Kentucky Derby: How Lucky Can You Get?

Even if you’ve been to Kentucky, unless you have experienced the call to the post, the singing of My Old Kentucky Home, and enjoyed the fastest two minutes in sports, the best is still waiting. From elegant hats and unusual outfits, you can bet on the Kentucky Derby to be a unique event. The first Saturday in May brings out the best that Louisville has to offer, but the two weeks leading up to the Derby is full of exciting events for all ages as well.

Thunder over Louisville

The Derby Festival kicks off with Thunder over Louisville, the largest fireworks display in the country. From the air show that provides thrills for the thousands that line the banks of the Ohio River, to the food, games, and music that lasts until dark the show is bound to impress when a cascade of fireworks light up the night sky accompanied by synchronized music for each year’s unique theme.

On April 12, 2014, Louisville will host it's 25th Thunder Over Louisville. There is a great air show planned beginning at 3 PM. During the weeks before the Derby, there are a multitude of activities for the whole family including the Big Bounce, The Chow Wagon, the Ford Motor Spelling Bee, and Macy's Spring Fashion Show.

Purchasing a Pegasus Pin will get you into the Balloon Glow, the Balloon Glimmer, and a number of events FREE when you display your Pin.

  • Derby Festival continues after Thunder with a Hole-In-One Contest,
  • The Marathon/miniMarathon running with a cause; the American Cancer Society,
  • Taste of Louisville with many fine restaurants and local chefs offering samples of their best dishes.
  • The Fest-A-Ville celebration featuring Rock Climbing, and Concerts, and
  • Kentucky Derby Festival Volleyball Classic, just to name a few.

Pegasus Parade

The Festival features the Pegasus Parade with marching bands, floats, and a celebrity grand marshal. Some of the past grand marshals have been Muhammad Ali, Cindy Lauper, and Bobby Flay.

The Derby Princesses and Queen ride in the parade and attend many of the events around town. The Princessess, students of various state college, are selected from 100 applicants and represent the city. The Queen is chosen by spin-of-the wheel. These young ladies will also receive scholarship money to continue their education.

Local residents and visitors alike participate in the mini-marathon. Others choose to enjoy the Taste of Derby Festival that offers the best food and drink from the abundance of great chefs in the Louisville. Restaurants such as the English Grille, Proof on Main, and many others share their talents. All proceeds of the Taste are donated to the Dare to Care Food Bank.

See the Stars

There are Stars galore that come to Louisville to experience the Derby. Your favorite Stars are treated like royalty and are surprised at the galas that will match any party and guest lists around. There may be a sighting of your favorite actress or even a Queen making their way to Millionaire Row.

Local balls that feature national talent are The Hermitage Grand Gala, The Unbridled Eve Party, and the The Barnstable Brown Party.

As Derby Day arrives fans will catch a glimpse of the twin spires as Churchill Downs comes into view. The Grand Stands, the Infields, and the Paddock are not to be missed as visitors wander the track making new friends and often getting valuable advice on placing bets.

Balloon Glow

The Derby Festival boasts a hot air balloon race that has families up early to experience race morning. Chasing the balloons as crews race their balloons across the morning skies is an event that will long be remembered . The evening before the balloon race, crews’ invite all Louisville families to gather and watch as the crews light up the balloons. The fascinating balloon glow is colorful, unique, and boast balloon designs that are often whimsical shapes that delight adults and children.

The Kentucky Oaks

Friday before The Kentucky Derby, is the Kentucky Oaks. Many locals make The Oaks, their day at the races. Ladies are dressed to the nines wearing outfits that have been planned for months. This is the day for hats reminding us of days gone by and celebrates the elegance and artistry of beautifully crafted hats. Some of the more creative hats and outfits are unique to the Derby theme.

Whether sampling a mint julep, enjoying the beautifully colored silks of the jockeys, or just soaking up the atmosphere, visiting Louisville is a taste of southern hospitality that will be long remembered. When you bet on the Kentucky Derby, it’s a sure thing.

The Kentucky Derby Museum

Whether you are visiting the Bluegrass State for a convention, vacation, or the Kentucky Derby, the Kentucky Derby Museum is thee place to expand your knowledge of racing in Kentucky.

There are various tours offered through the museum. There is a Backside Tour which will take visitors through the barn areas where horses train and are stabled during their time at Churchill Downs. On certain nights of the month a Twilight Tour is offered which takes visitors through Millionaires Row where many heads of states, television personalities, and movie stars spend their day at the races. The famous Twin Spires are a perfect background for picture taking on this level

The Kentucky Derby Museum is located in historic Church Hill downs which is the Home of the Kentucky Derby. If you have been a racehorse enthusiast for years, or don’t know a racehorse from a quarter horse, the museum may change the way you look at the fastest two minutes in sports. The history and spectacle of the Derby is fascinating, and the informative and entertaining guides make for an enjoyable afternoon.

The "Inside the Gates Tour" at the Museum gives everyone a complete picture of the history and daily life at Churchill Downs. You’ll begin by watching a video before being escorted through the museum which includes the first floor of the museum and an outside glimpse of the historic areas of the track. The second floor is open for visitor to spend as much time as they want with fun interactive displays which will please the children and also the little kid in all of us.

The second floor boasts an area where a rider can experience the role of a jockey by mounting a horse and maintaining a rider’s stance for two minutes, or test your Derby IQ with quiz questions. In addition to the museum, there is a gift shop, a café, a self-guided area where the clothes and hats of past Derbies are on display. Make time to include this in your trip to the Derby celebration.

Fun For Everyone

A few additional activities that lead up to the Derby are;

  • Pappa John's Basketball Tournament
  • Kentucky Proud Winefest
  • Beeffest
  • The Filies Derby Ball
  • Running Wild Pasta Party
  • Kentucky Derby Bed Race

Derby Activities

Churchill Downs
Churchill Downs


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    • Ky Cardinal profile image

      Ky Cardinal 3 years ago from Louisville, Ky

      How true. There were dozens of activities this year. I am going to update my article to include more events that people who visit and those that live here can enjoy. The new Bourbon Trail down on Main Street is going to be a great addition.

    • TimArends profile image

      Timothy Arends 3 years ago from Chicago Region

      The Kentucky Derby is such a great tradition that it has spawned many ancillary activities, events and attractions, to the point where you don't have to place a single bet to fully participate in it!

    • Ky Cardinal profile image

      Ky Cardinal 4 years ago from Louisville, Ky

      Thanks so much for your comment. We used to have harness racing here, but it didn't last long. I liked what I saw. If you are a racing fan, come to Louisville for The Oaks or The Derby. Either race would be a good experience.

    • jericho911 profile image

      Kenneth Claude 4 years ago from Parts Unknown

      I've never gotten to attend the Kentucky Derby in person. Your picture is amazing ! I go to standard races. I'm about 45 minutes from the biggest race in the harness industry -- The Little Brown Jug. I've been there several times, but i'm sure it pales in comparison to Churchill Downs.