Making the trek to the Derby? We've got some tips!
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.
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:
The Kentucky Derby is the first of the 3 races included in the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing. There have been 12 winners of the Triple Crown in its history, the latest of which was American Pharoah. In 2015, American Pharoah won first place in the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes, becoming the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.
The 1973 winner of the Derby, Secretariat, went on to be the first winner of the Triple Crown in 25 years. He’s considered one of the greatest race horses of all time.
The winner of the Derby is given a rose garland. The rose prize first appeared at the 1896 race, and the garland as it exists today was introduced in 1932. The roses inspired Bill Corum, a New York sports columnist, to call the Kentucky Derby the “Run for the Roses” in 1925.
Take a good look at Churchill Downs’ twin spires! Constructed in 1895, they’ve become a landmark and famous symbol of the Kentucky Derby.
The official drink of the Kentucky Derby is the Mint Julep. Each year, almost 120,00 are served at the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. Don’t miss partaking in this popular tradition, but drink responsibly!
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!
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