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The Kentucky Derby is one of the world’s premier horse races and each year thousands of fans descend upon Louisville to experience this incredible weekend of sport, tradition, and entertainment. We have been traveling to the Kentucky Derby for many years and we’ve learned a thing or two along the way. To help our guests plan their ultimate Kentucky Derby trip, we have created a Kentucky Derby 2024 Guide that contains everything you need to know about the upcoming event. If you’re attending the Kentucky Derby for the first time, check out the tips and information below to help you get the most out of your experience.

What is the Kentucky Derby?

The Kentucky Derby is an annual horse race that takes place on the first Saturday in May. The Kentucky Derby is a Grade I Stakes race for three-year-old Thoroughbreds and is known as one of the most prestigious horse races in the world.

When is the Kentucky Derby?

The next Kentucky Derby is scheduled for May 4, 2024. This popular race has been held annually, without interruption, since 1875.

What time is the Kentucky Derby?

The schedule for the 2024 Kentucky Derby has not yet been finalized. The Kentucky Derby post time is typically between 6:30 and 7:00 pm EST. However, there is plenty to see before the main event. Gates usually open at 9:00 am with other races begin mid-morning.

Where is the Kentucky Derby?

The Kentucky Derby takes place at Churchill Downs racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky, USA.

Who is in the Kentucky Derby field?

The field for the 2024 Kentucky Derby has not yet been determined. A total of 20 horses are expected to compete in the race.

How do horses qualify for the Kentucky Derby?

The field is selected via a series of races, known as the Road to the Kentucky Derby. Points are awarded to the top four horses in each race; the top 20 in the standings at the end of the series earn their spot in the Derby.

How long is the Kentucky Derby?

The Kentucky Derby race distance is 1¼ miles or 10 furlongs. In terms of time, the race usually lasts around two minutes, hence the nickname “the most exciting two minutes in sports.”

How fast do the horses run in the Kentucky Derby?

The speed of the Kentucky Derby horses is typically around 37 mph. The world record for top speed by a thoroughbred is 43.97 mph, though this was not clocked at the Kentucky Derby.

What is the prize for the Kentucky Derby winner?

At the 2023 Kentucky Derby, the total prize purse was $3 million, with an estimated $1.86 million of that going to winner. The winning jockey receives 10% of the winnings.

What is a Triple Crown Winner?

To achieve the triple crown, a horse must win the Kentucky Derby, the Belmont Stakes, and the Preakness Stakes in the same year. To date, only thirteen horses have managed to achieve the Triple Crown.
Triple Crown Winners include:

  • Justify (2018)
  • American Pharoah (2015)
  • Affirmed (1978)
  • Seattle Slew (1977)
  • Secretariat (1973)
  • Citation (1948)
  • Assault (1946)
  • Count Fleet (1943)
  • Whirlaway (1941)
  • War Admiral (1937)
  • Omaha (1935)
  • Gallant Fox (1930)
  • Sir Barton (1919)

How many people watch the Kentucky Derby?

The 2023 Kentucky Derby was watched by 14.8 million people (averaged) on NBC and Peacock, as well as the 150,335 fans who were in attendance at Churchill Downs.

What is the weather like at the Kentucky Derby?

The weather in Louisville in May is typically warm with average highs in the 70s. May is also the city’s rainiest month so we recommend preparing for all conditions when packing for your Derby trip. To see the historical weather for the Kentucky Derby, dating back to 1875, click here.

What else is there to do in Louisville besides the Derby?

Louisville offers a number of attractions for visitors to explore while in town for the Derby. In addition to the Derby week festivities, the city offers a number of museums including the Louisville Slugger Museum and Muhammad Ali Center, some great restaurants, and plenty of tours to horse country and bourbon country. For more ideas, check out our Louisville Travel Guide, which is full of our favorite things about this exciting destination.

How many Kentucky Derbys have there been?

The 2024 Kentucky Derby will be the 150th running of the event.

When was the first Kentucky Derby?

The first Kentucky Derby took place May 17, 1875 at what is now known as Churchill Downs.

Who won the first Kentucky Derby?

The first winner of the Kentucky Derby was Aristides, who was ridden by Oliver Lewis.

Who won the last Kentucky Derby?

Mage came from behind to win the 2023 Kentucky Derby, which took place on May 6, 2023.

Kentucky Derby Winners since 2000:

  • 2023 – Mage
  • 2022 – Rich Strike
  • 2021 – Medina Spirit
  • 2020 – Authentic
  • 2019 – Country House
  • 2018 – Justify
  • 2017 – Always Dreaming
  • 2016 – Nyquist
  • 2015 – American Pharoah
  • 2014 – California Chrome
  • 2013 – Orb
  • 2012 – I’ll Have Another
  • 2011 – Animal Kingdom
  • 2010 – Super Saver
  • 2009 – Mine That Bird
  • 2008 – Big Brown
  • 2007 – Street Sense
  • 2006 – Barbaro
  • 2005 – Giacomo
  • 2004 – Smarty Jones
  • 2003 – Funny Cide
  • 2002 – War Emblem
  • 2001 – Monarchos
  • 2000 – Fusaichi Pegasus

What is the race schedule for the 2024 Kentucky Derby?

The schedule for the 2024 Kentucky Derby has not yet been finalized. When available, it can be viewed here.

Thursday, May 2 – Thurby
Friday, May 3 – Kentucky Oaks
Saturday, May 4 – Kentucky Derby

Visit our event page for the full Kentucky derby schedule.

What is the “official” Kentucky Derby Drink?

The Mint Julep has long been a Derby staple. Each year, Churchill Downs serves up close to 120,000 of the drinks during the Kentucky Derby weekend. The popular drink is made with bourbon, simple syrup and fresh mint leaves.

What should I wear to the Kentucky Derby? Is there a dress code?

Among the many reasons to love the Kentucky Derby is the fashion. Whether you’re into fashion or not, the Kentucky Derby outfits play a big part in the atmosphere surrounding the race. Kentucky Derby fashion has become almost synonymous with the race itself, and year after year, thousands of Derby-goers meticulously plan their Kentucky Derby attire from head to toe.

Planning your Derby outfit is a fun part of the event’s tradition. In fact, Kentucky Derby outfits are often as talked about as the horse racing. With the Kentucky Derby taking place in the spring, it’s the perfect excuse to get dressed up in the latest spring fashions. Wondering what the attire requirements are or if there’s a Kentucky Derby dress code on race day? We’ve compiled some information below to help you out.


On Derby Day, the hats tend to be the focus. From elaborate wide brimmed headpieces to petite fascinators and from fedoras to top hats, there are plenty of fashionable options. In fact, many people plan their Derby outfits around their hat. If you fly into Louisville during Derby week, you’re likely to notice an abundance of hat boxes on the flight or being carried around in the airport. Some people even ship their hats to their hotel ahead of time. Many of the high-end hotels have pop-up hat boutiques where you can pick out the perfect hat when you arrive or add some extra flair to the one you brought.

Spring Dresses and Seersucker Suits

There aren’t many sporting events where you actually get dressed to the nines but you’ll find plenty spectators get dressed up to witness the fastest two minutes in sports. Many will coordinate their hat with spring dresses or smart casual suits; Kentucky Derby dresses and suits are often in bright shades or pastel colors. If you’ve ever wanted to take a fashion risk with a bold outfit, Derby is a perfect opportunity. Seersucker suits are everywhere but you can’t go wrong with a classic navy blazer either.

In addition to the much-talked-about Kentucky Derby hats, bold jewelry or other accessories often complete the look. Derby weekend is an ideal time to dust off the cufflinks and that bowtie you never wear. Shoes are important too; you’ll be on your feet a lot during the day so it’s important to either wear something comfortable or bring a more comfortable option to change into later.

The Most Important Thing to Wear on Derby Day

Choosing an outfit for the Kentucky Derby that shows off your personality is all part of the fun. While we love checking out all the unique and creative attire, there is one thing we recommend everyone wear on Derby Day: sunscreen! Sun protection is also a good reason to choose a wide-brimmed hat to complete your ensemble.

One last thing to consider is the weather forecast for the day. Be sure to come prepared for the conditions. In the off chance it’s a cool day, bringing extra layers is a good idea. If rain is a possibility, ponchos, rain boots, water-proof mascara and a rain cover for your hat may come in handy. Umbrellas are not permitted at the Kentucky Derby.

Is there a Kentucky Derby Dress Code?

Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby and the Kentucky Oaks, does have specific dress codes, depending on which part of the venue you will be viewing from. In most areas of the venue, the following items are prohibited:

  • Worn or torn garments
  • Halter tops
  • Athletic wear
  • Frayed or torn denim
  • Midriff tops

Certain sections of Churchill Downs are subject to a Business Casual or Smart Casual dress code, where further restrictions apply including:

  • Jeans/denim
  • Tennis shoes
  • Shorts
  • T-shirts

For those watching from the Kentucky Derby infield, the atmosphere is track casual and there is no dress code. Still, you’ll find plenty of people dress up to watch the horse racing. Though there are no specific rules when it comes to Kentucky Derby infield outfits, it is important to note that according to Churchill Downs’ website, “…management reserves the right to deny admission to anyone whose attire they consider to be inappropriate.”

What celebrities are at the Kentucky Derby?

Kentucky Derby weekend is known to draw plenty of A-list celebrities every year. In 2023, celebrities in attendance Derby weekend included:

  • Patrick Mahomes
  • Travis Tritt
  • Smokey Robinson
  • Richie Sambora
  • Randy Travis
  • Macy Gray
  • Bobby Flay
  • Jack Harlow
  • Emmitt Smith
  • Chris Pine

What are the Twin Spires?

Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, has twin spires on its roof. They were added to the design by Joseph Dominic Baldez, who determined they would provide the structure with a “striking appearance.” Over the years they’ve become a symbol of the venue and the Derby itself.

What is the Garland of Roses?

Each year, the winner of the Kentucky Derby is presented with a garland of red roses as part of the victory ceremony. The garland contains over 400 red roses and was introduced at the 1932 race.

What is the song they sing before the Kentucky Derby?

“My Old Kentucky Home” is a long-standing Derby tradition. The song has been performed by the University of Louisville Marching Band (with the accompaniment of the 150,000+ fans in attendance) since 1936, as the horses travel to the starting gate.

Our best advice for attending the Kentucky Derby

If you’re in Louisville for the Kentucky Derby, you may find yourself overwhelmed with all the things to see and do during the city’s biggest and most anticipated event. After many years of attending this unique event, we’ve nailed down our best pieces of advice for anyone planning to go for the first time. Much of it has been covered above already, here are a few more thoughts on how to get the most out of your Derby experience.

Check out the Paddock Area

This large, open space is a place to see and be seen, and while visitors can’t go in, they can get surprisingly close to the horses as they’re paraded through the paddock pre-race. It’s also a great location to photograph the spectacular hats and colorful outfits of the spectators.

In 2024, Derby-goers will have the opportunity for a unique paddock experience. The venue’s paddock area is currently undergoing a $200 million renovation and the spectacular new paddock experience is expected to be revealed as part of the 150th anniversary celebrations.


As one of the top sporting events in the world, the Kentucky Derby always seems to attract a number of big names from the entertainment industry. For those hoping for a celebrity sighting, check out the Derby Red Carpet (usually found near the VIP gate) where many celebrities will walk on their way up to their seats. If you want to get even closer to the celebs, you may want to consider attending the Barnstable Brown Gala, the most exclusive event of the weekend.

VIP Seating Options

Speaking of VIP seating, those seats aren’t just for celebrities. If you want the ultimate Derby experience, we can arrange for a spot for you in one of the premium viewing areas including Millionaires Row, the Stakes Room, and the new Homestretch Club. If you simply want to make sure you have a covered seat to protect you from the elements, our team can advise on which sections will best suit your needs.

Food and Drink

No visit to Louisville would be complete without two things: sipping a mint julep and having a hot brown: an open-faced sandwich with sliced turkey, bacon and mornay sauce. As far as we’re concerned, there’s no better place to try your first mint julep than at Churchill Downs during the Kentucky Derby. As for the Hot Brown, we suggest trying the original at the historic Brown Hotel, one of our luxury properties.

Louisville has a great selection of wonderful restaurants to indulge in during Derby week though you’ll want to plan early. Popular eateries book up well in advance of Derby week. If you’d like some recommendations, we go into detail on some of our favorite Louisville restaurants here.

Experience Thurby

A popular event with locals, Thursday at Churchill Downs (aptly named Thurby) offers a different experience than Friday or Saturday. There are races, of course, and there are also musical performances and other entertainment acts. Thurby also provides guests with a great opportunity to explore Churchill Downs before the main event on Saturday.

Plan Early

If you are hoping to attend the Kentucky Derby, we encourage you to plan early. We are seeing increased interest in this event and travelers are booking earlier than usual. Booking early gives you the best opportunity to secure your preferred Derby seating and accommodations.

Interesting Kentucky Derby Facts

The upcoming Kentucky Derby will be run on May 4, 2024. This prestigious event offers a fun atmosphere and draws thousands of visitors to Louisville every year. Here is a list of 20 fun and interesting Kentucky Derby facts to get you in the spirit for the big race.
1. The smallest field at the Kentucky Derby consisted of just 3 horses in 1892.
2. No female jockey has ever won the Derby. Shelly Riley was the closest with a second place finish in 1992.
3. The jockeys with the most Kentucky Derby wins are Bill Hartack and Eddie Arcaro, each with five wins.
4. The garland of roses that is presented to the winner consists of more than 400 roses and weighs 40 pounds.
5. In its history, the Kentucky Derby has never been postponed due to weather.
6. Though the current race distance is 1 ¼ miles, the race was originally slightly longer at 1 ½ miles.
7. The winner at the first Kentucky Derby in 1875 received $2,850. The purse for second place was $200.
8. The Kentucky Derby is the longest continuously run annual sporting event in the USA.
9. The person credited with starting the Kentucky Derby is Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr., grandson of explorer William Clark.
10. The record for the fastest Kentucky Derby winner is held by Secretariat, who ran it in 1:59:40 at the 1973 race.
11. There have only been three fillies (female horses) to win the Kentucky Derby, the most recent in 1988.
12. The attendance record at the Kentucky Derby is 170,513 spectators in 2015.
13. The record for most money wagered at the Kentucky Derby is $188.7 million in 2023.
14. In order to make the 120,000 mint juleps that are served over Derby weekend, the staff at Churchill Downs uses a total of 10,000 bottles of Old Forester Mint Julep Ready-to-Serve Cocktail mix, 1,000 pounds of fresh mint, and 60,000 pounds of ice.
15. The process of creating the Kentucky Derby trophy begins in the fall of the previous year in order to have it completed on time.
16. There is a Kentucky Derby Museum located at Churchill Downs, which welcomes over 230,000 visitors every year.
17. If you’re in town early for Derby, you can enjoy a number of events that comprise the Kentucky Derby Festival including a hot-air balloon event, a steamboat race, and a half and full marathon.
18. The host racetrack, which opened in 1875, wasn’t actually named Churchill Downs until 1883.
19. Nineteen Kentucky Derby winners have had names starting with the letter “S”.
20. The first time the Kentucky Derby was televised was in 1952.

If you’d like to experience the Kentucky Derby for yourself, talk to our luxury travel experts or request a Custom Trip Quote today.