The Woodford Reserve Kentucky Derby may be the most exciting two minutes in sports - but the lead up to those two minutes is anything but fast. For attendees/derby enthusiasts, the Kentucky Derby is a marathon, not a sprint.
For me, Derby season starts with Thunder Over Louisville. Admittedly, I haven't attended Thunder in Years (mostly due to guilt over Chico's paralyzing fear of fireworks). There are an incredible number of Derby and Derby Festival events, not to mention non-sanctioned Derby events that go on from now until the first Saturday in May. How do you survive this marathon of fun?
First - know when to say no. You could literally go to several things a day from now until Derby and still not hit every event! I inevitably lose my voice by Thurby every year, but I've managed to stay healthy thanks to the Emergen-C Immunity Gummies I start taking in early April. My horrific allergies always seem to kick in around this time so the gummies + OTC allergy medicine keep me sane and relatively itch and sneeze free. What they can't seem to combat is the dark circles under my eyes! Lack of sleep and allergies leave me feeling like a raccoon. I take Hum Nutrition's Wing Man vitamin to help combat them from the inside and use a combination of Becca Under Eye Brightening Corrector and Benefit's FAKEUP Concealer to combat it from the outside! Third: PREPARE PREPARE PREPARE. I can't stress this enough. Get your shoes broken in, your parking plan together, your outfits, dog walkers/babysitters, and dinner reservations.
What will I be doing in the lead up to Derby? Here are my recommendations:
April 21: Thunder Over Louisville! The world's largest firework show is DISCO THEMED this year!!
April 23: Girls Night Out Oaks and Derby Prep Party presented by Donna Barton Brothers and Starladies Racing at Porcini's! Get your handicapping tips and mingle with some of my favorite ladies all while benefitting The Backside Learning Center.
April 24: The Wellspring Derby Preview Party is on Millionaire's row and benefits Wellspring, a nonprofit that provides housing and rehabilitation services to people facing mental illness.
April 26 - The Chow Wagon begins (goes through May 4)! Funnel cakes and fun, this year with a Ferris wheel!
April 27: From 12-1, Neigh-Maste. Yoga outdoors, on the river. I can't go this year and I am BUMMED. I will however be in attendance at the Kentucky Derby Museum Gala and Lounge! Kick off your Derby week with open bar, desserts, great music, and dancing for only $75!
April 28: The Mini Marathon. I have clearly never participated, but I have heard this is a thing that runners and general fit-types do.. This is also OPENING NIGHT for my beloved Churchill Downs! If you've never been to opening night, you gotta come. Downs After Dark, aka night racing, is one of my favorite developments Churchill has made over the last 10 years! This year Fund For The Arts and the Jennifer Lawrence Foundation are partnering again for the Awards in the Arts. Wear your ORANGE to help spark creativity!
April 30: HappyTail Hour at the Fest-A-Ville - bring your dogs to support Metro Animal Services. No brainer. I have made it a point to spend my Monday night of Derby week at the Second Stride fundraiser at Molly Malone's for the past few years. Second Stride retrains retired race horses to enable them to find a new purpose in life - be it jumping, as a pet, or even acting!
May 1 - WineFest. (Goes through May 2) I can't go this year. I don't want to talk about it. Dawn at the Downs starts today, going through Thurby! This is an early morning event (6:30AM - 8:30AM), but its a wonderful experience. Watch the horses (including Derby hopefuls!) workout in the morning while enjoying breakfast! Champions Day also goes on at Churchill, featuring multiple Derby insider celebs: trainers, jockeys, owners, handicappers!
May 3: Thurby. One of my favorites when I was a kid was the Pegasus Parade! The last few years, I've been at the track all day for THURBY! We sure love to make anything into a way to say Derby in this town.
May 4: The Longines Kentucky Oaks. This used to be the "locals day" but turns out its just too much fun, so everyone jumped in! It's a pink out, focusing on the ladies - there is even a fashion contest! What gets me every year is the Survivor's Parade - a march around the track by breast and ovarian cancer survivors. I am literally tearing up writing about it. Watching these women trek around the track... there really are no words. Oaks Day is the real test that separates the experts from the novices. Many people party too hard at one of the many parties (I love Unbridled Eve! Its a glitzy yet laid back gala, with a fun vibe that you can't help but love. Plus, the organizers are ladies with hearts of gold! New this year is the Trifecta Gala at our brand new Omni! The after party is hosted by Diddy himself. What.) or at the bars (our alcohol laws are written with a proviso that allows no closing time on Derby eve.. for real.). In the morning, you can do the Original Makers Club Oaks Brunch - southern elegance at its finest.
May 5: The Woodford Reserve Kentucky Derby falls on Cinco De Mayo this year - making a huge party even bigger! Everything stops and the sun always seems to shine when the 125k+ people gather together to sing My Old Kentucky Home (See if you can spot anyone you know around 48 seconds in..) and I inevitably tear up. All the hope of the owners, the pomp and circumstance of this beautiful tradition. It ALWAYS overcomes me and I struggle to keep it together. The gates open, and THEY'RE OFF! The hooves thunder and for a brief second you think you have the winning ticket, the winning horse. Whether you end up right or wrong, its a roller coaster day of emotions - usually fueled by the week's lack of sleep and possibly a hangover.
May 6: Sleep for 2394872938 hours.
This post contains affiliate links and if you click on them I may be compensated.