Are you ready for Derby? You may have your hat and know who you’re betting on, but you’ll really want to make the most of this epic race that is, for many, a bucket list experience.
Derby fever is well underway here in Louisville, so I want to share some last-minute tidbits that can save you some trouble and make this an even more memorable trip.
Know What You Can—and Can’t—Take to the Track
Recommended Fodor’s Video
In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, Churchill Downs officials are battening down the hatches. See their What To Know page for the latest, but worth noting:
1. Your purse can’t be more than 12 inches in any dimension. You can bring a baby/diaper bag, but only if you have a corresponding child with you.
2. No cameras with detachable lenses.
3. No coolers this year, but you can bring sealed plastic water bottles.
4. Hope for no rain, or take a poncho—no umbrellas allowed
5. Infield folks: No tents, but you can bring chairs (Gate 3 only). A regular tells me caution tape and a tarp/blanket will protect your site (Gates 1 and 3 only).
If you don’t want to wait in line or eat track concessions, you can bring a "box lunch"—if it’s in clear plastic containers no bigger than 18" x 18", maximum two per person. You can take a chance and put together your own but several area restaurants know the drill and can make them up for you. Try Red Clover, Farm to Fork, Paul’s Produce, Anchorage Cafe, and Sullivan’s Bakery (order now!).
Speaking of food—do you have dinner reservations pre-Derby (Oaks night) or Derby night? What? You didn’t do that weeks ago? It’s slim pickings now, but here’s a thought: Locals love our thriving ethnic food scene, and the other tourists probably aren’t clamoring for Thai or Indian. Local favorites include DakShin, Simply Thai, Vietnam Kitchen, Queen of Sheba, and Al Watan. Bonus: Besides experiencing under-the-radar Louisville, these casual places mean you won’t have to fuss with dressing up after an exhausting day track-side. If you do have reservations and are running late, call the restaurant and tell them you’re coming or you might lose your table.
Neighborhood Tip: As you leave Churchill Downs, stop by Dairy Kastle on Eastern Parkway. This beloved institution serves up classic ice creams and American fare to a takeaway crowd that will tell you it’s worth the (long) wait.
Don’t Fight the Insanity
I hear the sweet spot for infielders looking for a place on the fence is arriving an hour and half before gates open.
Get your Derby bets in early or maybe not at all. Write your bets in the program before you go to the window to keep track.
If you are in reasonable shape and packed good shoes, walk to the track. The closer you try to park the more maddening it is. Enterprising homeowners nearby will rent space in their yard, but you’ll still have to maneuver through a logjam. Taxis are slow-going too. If you insist on driving, I have no good news, but you can park at Papa John’s near the stadium. Don’t tell my neighbors I said so, but there are plenty of street spaces in neighborhoods northeast of the track about two miles away.
Derby isn’t the final race of the day—stick around for more and let the crowds clear out.
And sorry about that amazing Instagram snap, but cell service can be spotty on race day. Save your updates for later.
The Race is Only Two Minutes, but There’s More Stuff Going On
Head to Dawn at the Downs Tuesday-Thursday to see the horses work out.
Sample some local favorite treats: Any of the bourbon-y coffee treats from funky drive-thru Red Hot Roasters; bourbon balls from Cellar Door Chocolates; and speaking of bourbon, a tasting Wednesday at Westport Whiskey & Wine features under-$25 bourbons.
(Thanks to fellow Louisvillians who shared some of these tips: Brent Dunne-Gillies, Andrea Ream-Duvall, Anne Shadle)