Fans of the famous Thoroughbred race will know that the actual Road to the Kentucky Derby comprises 35 horse races across the world in which Derby hopefuls rack up points in hopes of making into the top 20 contenders. That’s not the road we’re talking about here.
We’re talking about the road trip, of course! The Derby is held annually on the first Saturday of May at Churchill Downs, the racetrack conceived and founded by Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark near Louisville, Kentucky in the late 1800s. Having run annually since 1875, and boasting an attendance usually above that of any other North American horse race, watching the first leg of the famous Triple Crown is an experience you don’t want to miss.
Though the main event lasts a mere 2-minutes, there are a total of 27 races scheduled for the days of the Kentucky Derby (Saturday, May 7, 2016) and Kentucky Oaks (Friday, May 6, 2016). Beyond that, there are multiple weeks of festivities surrounding the Derby, and all of Louisville to explore! So what’re you waiting for? Grab your biggest hat or your brightest pants, pack the car, and hit the road!
A day at the Derby makes for a lovely - and relatively short - road trip from Lexington (80 miles), Cincinnati (105 miles), Indianapolis (120 miles), Nashville (175 miles) Columbus (210 miles), or St. Louis (265 miles). It’s also worth the drive from farther cities such as Chicago (300 miles), Detroit (365 miles), Pittsburgh (400 miles), Charlotte (475 miles), and Kansas City (510 miles) to witness one of the most famous and well-attended events in horse racing! What a perfect reason to plan a weekend getaway!
The Kentucky Derby has a number of partnerships for those in search of travel and lodging for the weekend, and Louisville’s tourism site offers further tools to plan your trip, including a hotel search engine. Note that parking at Churchill Downs is limited, and must be purchased in advance. Off-site parking is available at the Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium for $20 and the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center for $8. Shuttles will operate from the Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, downtown Louisville, and the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center at a cost of $15, $20, and $15 respectively.
Be sure to purchase tickets to the events you plan to attend ahead of time. The Kentucky Derby doesn’t offer will call, so have your tickets with you and keep them secure. For advice on how to pack your saddlebags for the drive, be sure to reference our Packing Guide. Plan specifically for your destination, too. Springtime in Louisville is sure to be beautiful but if you’ll be out in the sun all day, bring some sunscreen. Hats are a notorious accessory of the races - and they’ll keep the sun out of your eyes! Check ahead of time to be sure nothing you plan on bringing is prohibited.
Do Your Research
Hold your horses! If you’ve never been to the Derby, there are a few things you ought to know. There’s a detailed History & Tradition available online, but we’ll get you started with the basics:
Even the best horses have experienced trouble breaking out of the gate, and front runners have slowed or broken down halfway through the race. Be prepared for anything on your track with Urgent.ly. Download the app for 24/7 access to roadside assistance on demand to ensure you can get back in the saddle and off to the finish line no matter what happens on the road!