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What To Expect At Churchill Downs On Derby Day

Updated on March 8, 2013

Churchill Downs on Derby Day!

The Kentucky Derby is a big deal, not only for fans of horse racing, but for casual fans who love to enjoy a world famous event as well. The Kentucky Derby has become a favorite destination for those who create a “bucket list” and some folks just love to take in the festivities of what is truly Louisville’s flagship event. As with any event of this kind, you can just purchase your tickets and show up, ready for whatever the experience brings, but it is recommended that you do just a touch of research in preparation for the day.

Ideally, a couple of days before going to Churchill Downs, you should get a handle on where you are sitting. You can visit the Churchill Downs website and find a seating chart that will help you get a sense of where you will be. The race track is extremely crowded on Oaks and Derby days and it will be helpful to any first timer to at least have a sense of where he or she will have to go to find their section. If you arrive and do not have a good idea about where to go or how to maneuver through the track, there are always friendly Churchill Downs employees that will eagerly help you out.

Parking is usually a problem for the uninitiated. On track parking is difficult to get, and unless you are a Turf Club member or have made previous parking arrangements with a travel company or provider of Kentucky Derby tickets, you will likely find yourself having to park several blocks or more from Churchill Downs. Neighborhood parking can cost anywhere from $10 to $50, depending on how close you are to the track. You can also park at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium for a small fee and catch a shuttle to Churchill Downs. Remember, Churchill Downs is an older facility that has a neighborhood built around it, so parking will not be the same as if you were going to a sports arena or stadium. If you park in the neighborhood and don’t want to walk, there are usually small golf cart shuttles that will take you from your parking spot right to the front gate for a small donation.

Depending on where you will be sitting, you will want to be sure you are dressed appropriately. Churchill Downs does have a dress code and they are fairly strict about it. For those who are going to spend their day in the “Infield”, which is general admission, pretty much anything goes. Shorts, tank tops, tennis shoes or almost any other kind of apparel will be fine, although be advised that a day in the infield without sunscreen or comfortable clothing can be trying. Grandstand seating is a place where we start off with expectations of “dressing up” a bit. In this area or in box seating, most people will be dressed “business casual”. A dress or pant suits, and hats for the ladies, and polo or button up shirts, khaki pants and dress shoes are expected from the men, even if they are not as strict in policing apparel in these areas. When you get into the more expensive areas of the track that provide dining services, the dress code is strict and expectations on what a guest wears are higher. For instance, denim jeans, t-shirts, and tennis shoes are expressly forbidden. You can find out exactly what is considered appropriate or inappropriate on the Churchill Downs website.

Churchill Downs, in the name of safety, has a quite extensive list of items that are prohibited from being brought into the track and you can find that list on their website. A few of the usual items that people bring and have to abandon at the gate are umbrellas, bottles, coolers, and commercially prepared food. Guests are allowed bring common items such as cell phones, cameras, binoculars, and seat cushions into the track.

Once you are inside of Churchill Downs, you will be surrounded by everything you will need to make your day as comfortable and enjoyable as possible. There are plenty of food vendors and it’s almost impossible to travel more than 25 feet without running into beer or mint julep salesman. Almost every betting window in the place is open on Oaks and Derby days and there are also computer kiosks where you can place your bets, and these usually have shorter lines. If you are planning to bet a race, you are encouraged to not wait until the last minute to do so, as the lines can be very long and you don’t want to get shut out. This is especially true in the time before the Kentucky Derby race.

A last piece of advice that may help out on your trip to Churchill Downs is to do what you want to, or have to do, early. There will be over 160,000 people at the track on Derby day and it’s wise to get to betting windows early and be prepared to have to wait a few minutes for the restroom or when buying food. The main thing to remember on your trip to Louisville is to have fun. It’s a festive day that showcases all that is right with thoroughbred racing and the fun that can be had gathering with thousands of your closest friends to celebrate the “Run for the Roses”!


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