Your Guide to the Kentucky Derby
Kentucky Derby Party Checklist
You don’t have to make the trip to Churchill Downs or even Louisville to experience the Kentucky Derby. Plan your own Derby party with these suggestions for food, cocktails, decorations, and games.
There are a few essentials you must serve at your Derby party. Not only are these recipes traditional fare for the Derby, but they are delicious too!
- Kentucky Hot Browns
- Bourbon-Marinated Pork Tenderloin
- Country Ham and Biscuits
- Chocolate-Bourbon Pecan Pie
- Bourbon Balls
The mint julep is the iconic drink of the Kentucky Derby. Serve it in a silver julep cup for a traditional presentation. Here are some other race-day cocktails you should try.
- Classic Mint Julep
- Black-eyed Susan Cocktail
- Long Island Iced Tea
- Bourbon Smash
- Whiskey Sours
- Bourbon Cider Sour
Take your cue from the Kentucky Derby’s nickname, the Run for the Roses, and decorate with the classic flower. Rose and boxwood topiaries make great centerpieces or small tabletop decorations. You can either buy topiary forms and simply place them in a suitable container, or you can make one yourself with plastic foam balls and wooden dowels. Once you have bought or made the form, simply stick pieces of boxwood into the plastic foam. You can either make a tight arrangement by cutting the boxwood pieces the same length and placing them close together, or you can vary the length of the boxwood pieces for a looser and more natural arrangement. Then add red roses into the plastic foam for a pop of color and a Derby accent.
Fill traditional silver julep cups with red roses for a small-scale arrangement.
Use brightly colored tablecloths and napkins as a nod to the jockeys’ colorful uniforms, called silks.
The official Kentucky Derby Web site allows party planners to create and send e-vites.
You can also do it the old-fashioned way and send invitations by mail. Find a variety of Derby-inspired choices at Polka Dot Design. Our favorites: the Derby Clothing invitation and the Horse Race invitation, both by Odd Balls.
Order official Kentucky Derby Programs so your guests really feel like they’re at the races.
The actual race only takes two minutes, so plan a few Derby-inspired games to extend your party and keep your guests entertained before and after the race.
- Hat Contest
Ask your guests to wear hats to your party and encourage creativity by offering a prize for best hat. Award the winner with a homemade Chocolate-Bourbon Pecan Pie or a bottle of bourbon so they can take home a little taste of the Kentucky Derby.
- Game of Luck
Let each guest draw a horse’s name out of a hat to cheer for during the race. The guest paired with the winning horse wins a prize. Up the ante by making the prize a Jockey Silks Scarf for women or the Off to the Races Bow Tie for men from Vineyard Vines, The Official Style of the Kentucky Derby.
- For the Kids
Set up a game of horseshoes in the yard, or have the kids bring their own stick horses for their very own Run for the Roses.
It just wouldn’t be right to wear jeans and a T-shirt to a Kentucky Derby party, unless you were going for the relaxed, tailgating atmosphere of the infield. Follow our Head-to-Toe Kentucky Derby Fashion Guide to dress the part.