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    It’s Derby Week and all eyes are on Louisville, but we love the attention. It’s the greatest two minutes in sports and the Kentucky Derby festival and events go by just as quickly. It is important to make sure that you are prepared for Oaks and the Kentucky Derby so that you have the best experience. After all, it does only happen once a year.

    What to Bring:

    Bring plenty of money to pay for drinks, food, betting, and parking. Prices will be inflated, but it is worth every penny. I would suggest to bring cash, because it will make for easier transactions and you will be able to easily manage your spending. 

    You could bring an extra $1,000 if you want to purchase a $1,000 Mint Julep Cup. All purchases benefit Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Center.

    Ladies, bring small, compact purses or clutches. It is banned to have a purse larger than 12 inches and I am sure you will not want to carry it around all day if it's any larger than that. Try to fit everything in a small clutch that compliments your dress and will fit your money, keys, ID, phone, lipstick, and tickets. If you need to carry more, you must carry it in clear, plastic bags.

    Men, allow your ladies to put cash or cards in your wallet. You do not want to hear her complain that her purse is bothersome, so be a gentlemen.

    The requirements for allowed items are very stringent. I would suggest checking the list of permitted items here before arriving at Oaks or Derby. Permitted items include but are not limited to: small cameras, but none with detachable lens or lens of 6” or more, food, box lunches, or water and soft drinks, but only in compact plastic containers.

    Bringing less is always better, and you shouldn't need much than the listed permitted items, anyway.

    What Not to Bring:

    Banned items are, well, banned. Don’t bring them under any circumstances to Churchill Downs. These banned items include but are not limited to: Coolers, cans, pop-up tents, tripods, grill, alcoholic beverages, and weapons.

    For a full list of banned items, check here.

    This is a very sophisticated event and not the Bristol Motor Speedway (I was Nascar fan and had a Bristol t-shirt that I wore faithfully when I was younger), so be classy, Louisville.

    What to Wear:

    Three words. Hats. Dresses. Suits. They will be everywhere. In many colors, cuts, styles, and fashion. Walking into Churchill Downs is like walking into a party thrown by Jay Gatsby, but with a lot of big hats, fascinators and more Southern style.

    Women prepare for Derby months in advance, searching to find the perfect Derby dress, hat and accessories. Dress cute and sophisticated and camera-ready. Keep away from super-high, super-uncomfortable, or super-expensive shoes: there's lots of walking, and lots of dirt. Some ladies choose to bring a pair of flip-flops in case of rain or blisters.

    If it rains (and, man, the whole city hopes it doesn't) you will need something to keep the rain off your outfit and your hat. I suggest clear garment bags or ponchos, don't be caught covering your Derby outfit with a fresh-scented hefty bag. 



    Familiarize yourself with the contenders before the race, so you know who and what you are wagering if you plan to bet. The contenders can be viewed here.


    Are you a first-time horse better? Here is a great Kentucky Derby Betting Guide.


    Hopefully you have already got your tickets, but you can still purchase general admission tickets here.

    But, these tickets do not guarantee that you will have anywhere to sit or that you will be able to see a horse, other than on the many television monitors. However, it is still a great experience.

    Do not buy tickets from scalpers. No matter how fantastic the deal is to buy a ticket from a scalper, it is 100% illegal in the state of Kentucky. Don’t do it. Scalpers will be arrested if they are caught upselling tickets. Do not aid them in their jail time and you’ll sleep better at night.

    Directions to Churchill Downs:

    Not sure how to get to Churchill Downs? You can check here for a directional/parking map for Oaks and Derby and driving instructions from various locations in the city and Southern Indiana. Traffic is not as bad at Thunder (thankfully), but be prepared for traffic near Churchill Downs and various hot spots in the city. You may have already noticed the increase of pedestrians, especially downtown, as tourists are beginning to arrive. Be courteous and show them our Southern charm by avoiding road rage.


    Here is a parking map for Churchill Downs. There are many lots near Oakdale Avenue, Homeview Drive, Racine Avenue, and Central Avenue. Prepare to park in these locations for easy walking access to the gate entrances.

    Here is a virtual map of Churchill Downs Kentucky Derby weekend that offers parking prices, locations, and gate entry locations. Preparing for parking is extremely helpful in your Derby experience.

    Gate procedures and inside Churchill Downs:

    Search procedures will be done at each admission gate and all patrons are subject to magnetic wand scans before entry to the track on Oaks and Derby day for security purposes.


    According to the Kentucky Derby website,

    Patrons are reminded: "If you see something, say something.

    If you see something unusual please immediately call  502-636-4526 to report it." This relates to unusual behavior or anything illegal, but is not limited to drunken behavior and just downright hilarity in the infield.

    First time Churchill Downs guest? Check out the virtual tour of Churchill Downs before you go.

    Churchill Downs is a very courteous venue with many celebrities and locals in attendance. This is a great time to dress up, enjoy friends and family, and act in a polite manner. To make it simpler, everything that you may have done at Thunder, you are advised not to do at Churchill Downs.

    For instructions on how to act in the infield, just read Hunter S. Thompson’s "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved" here. Also, check's shorter version of the gonzo-esque coverage by Thompson that labeled him a literary genius.

    See you all there!

    For more tips, read the 2014 Kentucky Derby & Oaks “What to Know”

    Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

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    About Alexis Messmer

    2015 University of Louisville graduate. All things social media, marketing, writing, sneakers, photography, music, and a whole lot of coffee.

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