When I was in college, I worked as a waitress at a harness race track. Every year, the busiest day of the year was Derby Day. People got all dressed up, wore fancy hats, drank a lot, and spent a lot. It was a huge party. I knew that someday I would get to the Derby in person.
I recruited a couple of friends and we started planning the trip. Of course, being on the younger side of life, we wanted to make it as affordable as possible. Flights into Louisville, KY were pretty ridiculous. We opted to fly into and stay in Indianapolis. The drive from Indy to Louisville should take about 1 hour 45 minutes. That is of course unless you get to meet Kentucky’s finest State Police. I guess maybe the fast red car that was offered to a bunch of girls as a “free upgrade” didn’t end up being so free.
Upon arrival at Churchill Downs, the home of the Kentucky Derby, we knew we were in for a treat! There were all walks of life there. There were a few different options for tickets into the event. There were box seats–clearly saved for celebrities, and people with far more cash flow than myself, regular seats for the everyday Joe, and the perfect fit for our age and budget was the infield.
Now, it has been quite a few years since we attended, but it was a whole different world out on that infield. It gave me similar feels to when I attended Woodstock in ’99. Of course it was not that crazy, but it was so muddy that the true mud people came out in force. It was basically a giant frat party in a field. There was a lot of food, even more drinks, and plenty of people watching. We put on our recently purchased Wal-mart puddle boots and enjoyed the sights. while sipping on the incredibly strong Mint Julep and Kentucky Oak Lily drinks. Those people from Kentucky sure do like their Bourbon. We found the Oak Lily a bit more palatable.
If you want to attend the Derby to actually watch the races and bet on the horses, I would recommend sitting in the everyday Joe section. When it came time for the actual Derby race, we snuck our way right up into the grandstand to catch the event.
We had a blast. The energy during the race was intense. Everyone was super friendly and some people chose to dress way up, completely casual or like the mud people, clothing optional. (Don’t worry, there weren’t naked people running all around) We opted to bring our Derby hats with us and that felt appropriate enough without getting all fancy.
If you have the opportunity to visit Churchill Downs when its not so crazy, its a fun visit. The museum and tour ticket ($17) gets you a nice tour of the grounds where you’ll learn about the history of the track and the horses that excelled, entrance to the museum where they have a horse racing simulator and museum displays, a cool 360 theater where you’ll watch a short movie, a cafe and a gift shop.
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