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Home » How To Host A Kentucky Derby Party: Key Tips For Making Your Event Memorable

How To Host A Kentucky Derby Party: Key Tips For Making Your Event Memorable

Host A Kentucky Derby Party: 6 Steps To Perfect This Popular Party Theme

  1. Take the time to learn the history of this long standing sporting event.
  2. Understand the traditions of the event, so you can weave them into your party plan.
  3. Play up the theme to set the tone… don’t overlook the invitations and your own attire.
  4. Splurge on the right party accessories to inject on-theme details like a pro!
  5. Plan activities and on-theme menu items / cocktails that highlight your theme.
  6. Send your guests home with a festive party favor that will remind them of your event.

Follow these guidelines to get in your Kentucky Derby Party planning groove!

Read on for all the details you should consider; how to host a Kentucky Derby party your guests will never forget.

But first… here are some things you should know about this famous U.S. Sporting Event.

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Kentucky Derby Basics

The Kentucky Derby takes place on the first Saturday of each May, at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.

This event is also known as ‘The Run For The Roses’, and the red rose is the official flower of the Derby.

The Kentucky Derby race is 1.25 miles long, and is the first race of the famed ‘Triple Crown’ of horse racing. The other two event that make up the Triple Crown are: The Preakness Stakes (Maryland), and the Belmont (New York).

The Kentucky Derby has a long-standing history in American sporting culture, and has been dubbed “the most exciting two minutes in sports”. This certainly makes it a fun excuse to gather a crowd for a party!

Kentucky Derby History

The Kentucky Derby began in 1875, and is the longest running sporting event in the U.S.

William Clark (of the famous Lewis & Clark) has a grandson named Meriwether Lewis Clark. Meriwether visited England, where he discovered the French Jockey Club (the developers of the Gran Prix de Paris Longchamps, another popular horse race). He also attended the Epsom Derby in England and was determined to bring a similar event to the States.

His Uncles (John & Henry Churchill) were able to provide the land he needed to make his vision a reality… to create his race track. He started what became the Louisville Jockey Club. The LJC raised money toward their cause, and were eventually able to build a permanent track.

The very first Kentucky Derby was hosted there in May, 1875!

Kentucky Derby Party Traditions

There are a number of traditions that accompany the Kentucky Derby, so knowing these can help hosts weave some meaningful traditions into their party plans!

Garland Of Roses

According to, “Each year, a garland of more than 400 red roses is sewn into a green satin backing with the seal of the Commonwealth on one end and the Twin Spires and number of the race’s current renewal on the other. Each garland is also adorned with a “crown” of roses, green fern and ribbon. The “crown,” a single rose pointing upward in the center of the garland, symbolizes the struggle and heart necessary to reach the Derby’s Winner’s Circle.”

Singing of ‘my old Kentucky home’ song.

‘My Old Kentucky Home” is the official song of the state of Kentucky. It has been performed by a variety of famous musicians over the years, including John Prine, and has become a part of the event (usually performed and sung by the crowd during or after the Parade).

Here is a YouTube clip of the tradition, during the 2016 Kentucky Derby Parade:

Drinking Mint Juleps

This iconic drink is so embedded in the event, that the track has special commemorative Mint Julep glasses for each year!

Kentucky Derby Fashion / Attire

Kentucky Derby fashion is over-the-top! If you’re asking yourself, “what should I wear to a Kentucky Derby Party”, we have a number of resources for you.

The most prominent fashion tradition associated with the Kentucky Derby is big and bold HATS! The event is a dressy one, and the Ladies traditionally wear simple dresses with oversized, statements hats and accessories for this big day. Women have also turned to fascinators as well as hats, to mix things up. The bigger, the better!

In recent years, men have increasingly embraced this tradition. In addition to seersucker suits, bowties and bright colors, men have started to wear hats for the Derby as well, and we have a great selection of derby-worth hats rounded up in this linked article.

Read here for some incredible Kentucky Derby style inspiration for both Men and Women.

This video clip of Kentucky-Derby attendees might give you an idea of how to choose the right attire!

Kentucky Derby Party Invitations + Decor

When you’re hosting a party as fun as the Kentucky Derby, you can go all out… starting with your invitations! Now that you know some of the traditions of the event, you might have some ideas on themes to run with.

Choosing party decor that plays off of the traditions of the event will make your party feel thoughtfully planned, and your guests are sure to notice. We have a whole post dedicated to Kentucky Derby Party decorations here.

Kentucky Derby Party Ideas

If you’re wondering how to host a Kentucky Derby party that will really stand out, here are a couple of ideas. A little planning ahead of time, and you’ll have some key party details to take your event to the next level!

Order The Official Derby Program Guides By Mail Ahead Of Time

Did you know that you can pre-order the Official programs (the same ones they sell on the day of the event)? sells these each year, and having them on hand at your party for guests to peruse before the race is a sure-bet!

What better way for guests to become acquainted with the details of the race, than to have the official race program in their hands?

Plan to have a few of these on hand at your event. Order these official programs ahead of time, and you’ll feel like you’re there!

Kentucky Derby Party Food + Drink

Derby food and drink is notably ‘southern’, and the Mint Julep cocktail should definitely be on your party menu!

Party Cocktail: Mint Julep

Best Mint Julep Recipe

For a classic take on the Mint Julep, that’s sure to be a crowd pleaser, check out this recipe from The Chunky Chef!

Some Must-Have Essentials for making Mint Juleps?

  • A cocktail muddler
  • Crushed Ice (make ahead or buy bags of it – you’ll want a LOT of ice)
  • Simple Syrup (make ahead of time, present in a glass bottle like this)
  • Fresh Mint (loads of it)
  • A good, budget Bourbon

Most of the best recipes suggest pouring water in with the Bourbon, so you could make use of two glass bottles like the above (one for simple syrup and one for water) if you’re planning on a make-your-own cocktail station!

If you really want to wow the guests, you might even have a few of the official Kentucky Derby Mint Julep glasses on hand (or as party favors!)

You can order in advance directly from the official race website.

Click to link to official race website for purchase

White wine is another great option in addition to the traditional Mint Juleps, as the warmer temps of Spring are becoming the norm. Not everyone is a fan of Bourbon, so this is a nice option to have one hand.

Kentucky-Derby Party Food

For food, consider appetizers like deviled eggs, okra “fries”, finger sandwiches with ham, and other southern finger foods for mingling guests.

You can also serve southern-style icebox cookies, Kentucky hot brown dip, or really anything else you can think of with ham in it!

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