KY Derby Season

If you’re not from Louisville, there’s a good chance that you have no idea how big the The Kentucky Derby is around here. We consider it a season. For example, schools are closed on the day before Derby. This Friday is reserved for KY Oaks Day. Also held at the gorgeous Churchill Downs, this race is only for the ladies, lady horses that is. Three-year-old Thoroughbred fillies race 1-1/8 miles for a $600,000 purse & huge garland of lilies. Oaks Day has become more for the locals, leaving the actual Derby to the “out-of-towners.” It’s also tradition to wear pink to the track on Oaks Day. As Churchill Downs has partnered with the only non-profit organization that focuses on prevention & early detection of breast cancer & ovarian cancer in young women, Bright Pink.

Pink Derby Hat

The KY Derby Festival kicks off “Derby season” two weeks prior to the actual running of the KY Derby. There are festivities for everyone & many of them family-friendly; from the Zumba Fitness Party, to the Tour de LouHappyTail Hour, & Texas Hold’Em Tournament. But because there are way too many events to detail here, I’m going to share some of the staples.

First, let me tell you the high cost of getting into many of these festivities. Hold on to your Derby hats, it’s expensive… it’s → A Pegasus Pin! Yes, only a Pegasus Pin; which costs around $5.00. The Pegasus has long been the symbol of the KY Derby Festival & these pins are sold in an effort to raise money to provide free events. Well, events in which one only needs a Pegasus Pin to enter. Just show it at the gate & you’re in! But wait, there’s more! You can register your pin online to win weekly prizes AND if you happen to get a gold pin, you’re eligible to win a car! Shut Up!


KY Derby

Okay. The first major event kicking off the KY Derby Festival is Thunder Over Louisville, exactly two weeks before Derby. It’s the largest annual fireworks display in North America! Every year it grows bigger & better than the last. The fireworks are set-off from barges & bridges, & synchronized to music. Arrive early to experience one of the top five air shows in the country. It’s kind of a big deal. People go downtown early in the morning to claim their spots. Surrounding restaurants, hotels & tall office buildings rent out space; but you better reserve early! Though the crowd can be intimidating it’s definitely worth it, especially if you have children.


KY Derby

Next stop on The KY Derby Festival?… The Great BalloonFest! This includes a Balloon Glimmer, Balloon Rush-Hour Race, Balloon Glow, & Balloon Race! Apparently people love some hot-air balloons here in Louisville. The Great Balloon Glimmer is a mini version of the Balloon Glow & is held at Waterfront Park. It kicks-off the Kroger Fest-a-Ville on the Waterfront & opens the Chow Wagon. What is the Chow Wagon? It’s on the Waterfront & hosts all different types of food vendors, rides, & concerts. The concerts cross several genres & are held on multiple stages. And yes, admission is only a Pegasus Pin! I’ve seen some amazing concerts there. It’s definitely worth checking out. When the weather is nice sometimes my family & I just head down to the Waterfront to hang out. The girls get on rides, we eat some food, & listen to live music. It’s great family time; & that’s really what the KY Derby Festival is about. Here’s the 2016 Chow Wagon Schedule.

The Great Balloon Rush-Hour Race is the same thing as The Great Balloon Race, only it’s during rush-hour traffic the morning before. A little morning pick-me-up on your way to the office. The Great Balloon Glow is held at the KY Expo Center the night before the balloon race. It’s quite a beautiful sight, seeing the various balloons alit against the night sky. You’re able to speak with the balloon owners as well. Finally, early the next morning the actual Great Balloon Race launches over Louisville. It’s a pretty cool sight.


KY Derby Festival

The Marathon & Mini-Marathon have become huge, as the marathon is a Boston Marathon qualifying event. They are held on the Saturday before Derby. For course details, go here. My husband has run the mini several times & the marathon once. Who me? Never!


The Great Bed Races have been around forever! Anyone can enter by getting a team of five people together, building a bed on wheels & decorating it. On race day, the Monday before Derby, you dress-up in a whacky costume to race your bed. Make sure to stick to the theme if you’re serious about winning this thing! Participants are judged on Fastest Course, Best Decorated, Most Entertaining, & Best Cone-Eater. Weird fun. What’s weirder, I have no idea what the prizes are for winning. Interested in registering? Go here!


The Great Steamboat Race, held the Wednesday before Derby, first began in 1963. As one would assume, some changes have been made since then. The most recent was in 2009 when longtime rival, the Delta Queen, was replaced by the Belle of Cincinnati. They’re rivals, of course, to hometown favorite the Belle of Louisville. You can enjoy the race on the boats themselves; along with food, drinks, & music. Additionally, Four Roses Bourbon is again providing a bourbon tasting on the Belle of Cincinnati. It sounds like a date night to me. For tickets go here!


The last big event before the running of the KY Derby is the Pegasus Parade! It is led by a big inflatable Pegasus balloon. Though over 90% of route can be viewed for free, there is reserved seating available. Most people simply go downtown early, bringing their own chairs or blankets & claim a spot. The parade is full of different floats, high school marching bands, clowns, celebrities, local “heroes” & politicians, & horses {of course}!


KY Derby

Finally, The KY Derby arrives. It’s always the first Saturday in May. It’s considered “the greatest two minutes in sports!” It’s also been coined “The Run for The Roses,” as one of the prizes is a large blanket of red roses. Three-year-old Thoroughbreds race 1-1/4 miles for a purse of $2 million. This year is the 142nd running of the KY Derby. It’s the first leg of the American Triple Crown; the second being Preakness Stakes, & third Belmont Stakes.

Everyone that goes to Derby is dressed “to the nines!” Derby hats are a must. Women start shopping &/or making their hats months ahead of time. Many women pick out their Derby hats first & then their outfit. If you’re not at the track on Derby Day, you’re most likely at a Derby party. There are races all day leading up to the main race, so I mean, you kind of have to party ALL DAY… don’t you? I’m speaking for others of course! For those who do imbibe, it’s tradition to drink a Mint Julep on race day. It involves mint, sugar, water, ice, & bourbon of course! For the recipe go here!

Eventually, post-time comes & all the Derby horses must file into their starting gates. That’s always amusing; watching which horses are riled-up versus calm & how that translates to the track. Then, no sooner than the last horse enters the gate, they’re off! Everyone cheers on their horse throughout the whole 1-1/4 miles. And before you know it, the greatest two minutes in sports is over! The winner is “crowned” {w/money & roses}. Then life goes back to normal in Louisville, KY. Until next Derby Season…….

Have you ever been to the KY Derby or KY Oaks? Did you have fun?

Krista-Lee-Pfeiffer :: Blogger & Creator of The Sunny Shadow

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