Kentucky Derby: Tips For People Travelling To Churchill Downs

Travelling To Churchill Downs

Author: Lindsay Griffin

Everyone remembers their first Kentucky Derby. Mine was 1998. I was nearly twelve years old, and I happened to catch it playing on television at a restaurant in my hometown, nearly a thousand miles from Churchill Downs. I bet a quarter against my mom that my pick would outfinish hers. I lost, but I didn’t care- I was hooked. (My mom let me keep the quarter.)

Equally unforgettable, however, is any time you actually get to be a live witness to the Run for the Roses. So, you should check here where to buy Kentucky Derby tickets to enjoy the event in person.

It wasn’t until 2019 when I was able to achieve what had become a life-long dream of mine: attending the Kentucky Derby. Everything about it was amazing, and it was truly one of the events that impacted the rest of my life. And of course, my mom (who was just as enthusiastic about the tradition and fashion aspects of the Kentucky Derby as I was about the horses) was there with me. 

Still, there were a lot of things for the two of us to learn, as inexperienced travelers of this particular region of the United States.

Here are some of the tips I would give to anyone who is traveling to Churchill Downs for their first Kentucky Derby- whether it’s the first time they’ve ever seen a horse race, or the culmination of decades of viewership.

Wear Comfortable Shoes 

If I could give any would-be racegoer any single piece of advice, it would be this: wear shoes you can walk long distances in.

Churchill Downs is a big place, and televised broadcasts don’t do it justice. The track itself is gorgeous and has the classic architecture of the era in which it was built while still having modern amenities. The entrance to the track is also nearly the entire length of the track away from the grandstand, and well-spaced from the Derby Museum, the walking ring, and most of the food (and bourbon). It’s entirely likely that you will easily get your steps in on Derby Day.

Support Locally Owned Businesses 

When you are at the track itself, of course you will most likely get your food and drink there. However, there are many small businesses in the Louisville area that rely on Derby Week to make a profit. You can support the community as well as sample the Louisville culture when not physically at the track. I highly recommend Kentucky cuisine, such as burgoo (a hearty stew with pork, beef, and chicken) and Derby pie (a delicious chocolate and walnut dessert).

Don’t Even Try To Drive There

As with all major sporting events, the traffic around the Kentucky Derby is extremely difficult to navigate.

Thankfully, Louisville is aware of this and provides multiple options for public transit to and from Churchill Downs. Most hotels offer a shuttle service to and from the track (at least during Derby Week). All local taxi and ride-share drivers also know the routes well. 

Study The Horses Ahead Of Time

If you are settling in at your hotel or at the track, you will likely have less time than you think to study the Daily Racing Form. You may want to set aside some time a day or two before traveling to really study the past performances and bloodlines of your favorite contenders. Of course, some information, such as track conditions and current jockey statistics, cannot be learned ahead of time, but if you have the basic history of the contenders down pat, you will be all the more alert to race day factors as well as issues that may affect your travel, such as travel expenses or weather hazards.

Have Fun

This is an amazing and iconic piece of American culture! Enjoy it!

Point out the best-looking horses and the worst-looking hats. Sample a cocktail or two, alcoholic or not. Place a cheap bet on a hunch. Belt out the lyrics for a song describing a state that you don’t live in. Scream yourself hoarse as the field charges into the far turn.

Enjoy yourself! That’s what the Kentucky Derby is truly about.