The Kentucky Derby, similar to the famous golf championship The Masters, is “a tradition unlike any other” with a legacy that rivals that of any existing American event. The Derby “experience” cannot be duplicated anywhere outside of Louisville, Kentucky, under the Twin Spires of Churchill Downs. Trying to articulate everything we love about the Kentucky Derby is impossible, but we’ll at least hit the highlights!
In 1875 when the first Kentucky Derby was run, everyone wore hats and the patrons of Churchill Downs were always adorned in their finest. While race day attendees these days don’t need to be dressed to the nines for most seating areas, a high standard of dress is still expected to be kept. Because the Derby is traditionally held in early May, vibrant colors are common as both women and men compete for the most eye-catching, and often grandiose, outfits.
The array of hats worn by both men and women at The Derby are typically designed as statement pieces – frequently loud and attention-grabbing – you won’t be able to miss these beautiful fashion accessories as you take in all the excitement of Derby day.
Once you step foot inside Churchill Downs and witness the soaring Twin Spires that set off the roofline of Churchill Downs, or hear the crowd’s rendition of “My Old Kentucky Home,” you know that you’re in a very special place with a unique past.
According to the Kentucky Derby website, the Twin Spires were “constructed in 1895 [and] were the creation of a 24-year-old draftsman, Joseph Dominic Baldez, who was asked to draw the blueprints for Churchill Downs’ new grandstand.” He wanted to give the structure a “striking appearance,” and these hexagonal spires certainly fit the bill!
When it comes to Derby traditions, the Mint Julep is at the top of our list! According to the Kentucky Derby itself, nearly 120,000 glasses of this classic cocktail are served up over the course of the Derby and Oaks weekend each year at Churchill Downs. Mint julep is a mixed alcoholic drink consisting primarily of Kentucky Bourbon, sugar, water, crushed or shaved ice, and fresh mint. As a bourbon-based cocktail, it is associated with the American South and the cuisine of the Southern United States in general, and the Kentucky Derby in particular.
Not only does the Kentucky Derby shine a national spotlight on Louisville, it also brings thousands of guests to our city, including some big-name celebrities and dignitaries. And with so many famous names in town, it only makes sense that locals like to celebrate the occasion like we are celebrities ourselves!
There is a long list of well-organized parties to attend before, during, and (our favorite) after the Kentucky Derby race. The most popular and star-studded Kentucky Derby parties include the Unbridled Eve Gala, the Barnstable Brown Gala, and the Fillies & Stallions ball, just to name a few.
So as you can see, there is a LOT to love about the Kentucky Derby. The race and the venue, Churchill Downs, are dear to the hearts of every Kentuckian, and as residents of Louisville, Kentucky Derby Day is one of the biggest days of the year, for sure!