Who isn't fascinated with the Kentucky Derby? Famous for its pagentry, partying, and stunning horses, it's the most famous horse race in the world. But if you aren't game to deck out in a fashionable hat and join the 150,000+ who show up annually at Louisville's Churchill Downs, you can enjoy a calmer, gentler Lexington Derby experience in the Bluegrass State.
Lexington is only about 90 minutes from Louisville, and you can either spend your whole Derby celebration there or take advantage of tour packages that allow you to commute to Churchill Downs and then escape the crowds with a historic stay in Lexington. Here are five Lexington Derby experiences guaranteed to get you into the spirit of the race—and give you a window into the unique character of Kentucky's horse country.
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1. World's Largest Derby Party
Legendary Keeneland Race Course hosts "the largest Derby party in the world"—at just $5 per person. The track itself is gorgeous, and you can picnic in the paddock or have a cocktail party in the clubhouse. Keeneland has some 1,000 televisions set up, so you can watch all the action at the Derby. Enjoy local food (and the requisite souvenir mint julep glass). There are even activities for the kiddies. Gates open at 9 a.m.
2. Horse Country Program
Lexington now offers access to private tours of championship Thoroughbred farms. You can meet previous Derby winners, including American Pharoah, who won the Triple Crown. This immersive program not only includes tours of Lexington horse farms, but also offers horseback riding lessons and trail rides, plus driving tours. Maybe best of all? You can visit Old Friends, a sanctuary for retired Thoroughbreds.
3. Derby Day Breakfast Feast
Choose a casual barn setting or a special Derby menu served inside the historic mansion at Waveland State Historic Site. A newly renovated barn, tent, and grounds will have three breakfast seatings (at 9, 9:30, and 11 a.m.) for $25 per person. Or pull out all the stops with an elegant breakfast in the mansion, served on fine china and featuring Kentucky specialties like Derby pie tart and bourbon mint brownies. The price is $75 per person, incuding a mimosa. Get details at the website for Kentucky State Parks. Whether you choose the barn or the mansion, your breakfast comes with a tour of the house.
4. Getaway Package
If you want the best of both worlds—Churchill Downs and an escape from the crowds—Blue Grass Tours will be offering a four-night Kentucky Derby Getaway May 3-7, including overnight stays at historic Lexington Campbell House Hotel, transportaton to and from Churchill Downs with lunch and refreshments, a "backstage" tour of Keeneland Race Course, and additional opportunities to experience racing and equine culture.
Need a trivia game to keep you busy on your trip?
Just be glad we didn't choose them all from Louisiana. Also, we let you skirt by the Tchoutacabouffa River in Mississippi.