There is more to the Kentucky Derby than two minutes around the track.

Southern Vacations: The Kentucky Derby
A little extra planning and money gets you a view high above the track.
| Credit: Gary Clark

The Kentucky Derby is a chance to go all out—big hats, big hopes, and big smiles. If you're lucky enough to take a trip to Churchill Downs to watch what's billed as the most exciting two minutes in sports, it's best to join in the fun and go big and splurge on the full VIP treatment. Here's how to do that:

The first step to hitting the Derby like you own every thoroughbred in the race is to skip the road trip and the commercial jet. Instead, climb aboard Derby Air, a private jet that will be shuttling well-heeled folks to Louisville in style. Spend your time in the friendly skies, sipping a Kentucky 95, a bespoke cocktail from Bobby Flay, made with bourbon, of course.

Have your limousine waiting for you when you land (companies like Derby City Limo and R & R Limousine can arrange a ride in Louisville) to whisk you to your hotel. Opt for the classic luxury of the Brown Hotel or the modern style of the 21C, or choose another option elegant from our list of Louisville's finest hotels. Check in, and then head to the spa for a hot stone massage and a hair appointment, because you're heading to a ball.

Unbridled Eve is a black-tie gala traditionally held the night before the Derby. It's an elegant Southern ball filled with horse-racing VIPs and celebrities in town for the race. This year the gala will be held in the ballroom of the Galt House Hotel and it's the perfect place to dress your best and pick up some insider tips on the race. Take a tip from Cinderella, though, and leave the ball before midnight, because tomorrow is the main event.

Start Derby day right with an exclusive breakfast cooked by Bobby Flay, who'll be hosting and cooking at 21C for Sentient Jet Cardholders and VIPs. Expect twists on the classics like a Kentucky Ham Benedict with chive and hot sauce hollandaise and black pepper buttermilk biscuits with molasses butter. Flay is a well-known racing fan, so he'll probably serving up his picks for the races alongside his brunch.

After brunch, it's time to get ready for the race, including, your brightest dress, seersucker suit, and, of course, your elegant fascinator or stylish hat. Derby aficionados know that hats are a must, so find one that suits your style and makes a statement. You can't go wrong, whether you opt for a royal wedding style fascinator, a 1920s-esque cloche, a glamorous Christine A. Moore concoction, or a hat so wide-brimmed that it will block out all solar rays.

Finally, hop in your limo and head to Churchill Downs. The racetrack just invested $16 million to renovate their clubhouses and VIP areas, known as Millionaire's Row and the Skye Terrace. They come with excellent views of the track, private wagering stations, and in-suite hospitality. However, those in the know will skip the regular old Millionaire's Row and try to swing an invitation to The Mansion, the Derby's most exclusive venue. Mansion guests ride a private elevator to the sixth floor where they have 10,000-square feet of prime viewing space to relax and watch the race while the resident sommelier and private concierge see to their every whim. There are only 296 tickets available for the Mansion, and you can't just buy a ticket. Instead, you must be invited to purchase one for a cost of anywhere from $7,500 to $14,000 a piece, according to Town and Country. The price of admission might be worth it, if you're a big fan of rubbing shoulders with billionaires and other high rolling VIPs. If luck is on your side, maybe you'll win back the cost of the ticket when your horse wins the Roses.