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The Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky
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Known as the “fastest two minutes in sports,” the Kentucky Derby is one of the most exciting and prestigious sporting events in the United States — if not the world.

Held annually since 1875 at Churchill Downs in the Southeastern city of Louisville, Kentucky, this race of 3-year-old thoroughbred horses is the longest-running continuous sporting event in the U.S.

For the 155,000 people who typically attend Derby (as locals call it) annually on the first Saturday of May, it’s more than just a horse race. It’s a weekend-long celebration. On Friday, Churchill Downs hosts the Kentucky Oaks race. That night, the parties move to Louisville’s ballrooms and mansions for black-tie galas, as well as the city’s restaurants and bars (many stay open all night during Derby weekend) for more informal festivities. Then on Saturday, Churchill Downs hosts another full day of races, with the marquee event around 6:30 p.m.

Don't worry if you can’t make it to Kentucky for the celebrations. Many U.S. horse-racing tracks take a break from their own live races to show Derby on their big screens. And bars around the nation throw Derby parties, where guests often dress up to take part in Derby-day traditions.

How to Get Tickets to the Kentucky Derby

Temperatures in Kentucky in early May can be scorching hot or cold and wet, so you’ll want covered seats with easy indoor access. For a shot at grandstand seats, visit the Kentucky Derby website in the fall and register in a lottery for a chance to buy tickets. If that doesn’t work, other seats are usually available on Churchill Downs’ website until the last minute. Part of the Derby website allows fans to resell their tickets, so be sure to check that area too.

And you can buy a general admission infield ticket for US$50, but the cost increases over time — it’s US$60 on race day. Keep in mind that it’s a party scene in the infield, but it can be hard to see the races.

From Millionaires Row to the infield, spectators can experience a number of different viewing options at Churchill Downs.

From Millionaires Row to the infield, spectators can experience a number of different viewing options at Churchill Downs.
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What to Wear

The Derby’s renowned for its fashion. Hats, usually the bigger the better, are the key item for women. While Louisvillians debate whether their city’s in the South or Midwest region of the United States, on Derby day, they — and their guests — embrace Southern heritage. Also, a big hat is practical for what can be a long day in the sun.

For men, a suit will suffice — bonus if it’s khaki or seersucker. Pair it with a straw fedora.

What to Drink

In addition to being known as horse country, Kentucky is known as bourbon country for the variety of whiskey it pioneered. So it comes as no surprise that the official drink of the Kentucky Derby — the mint julep — is bourbon based. The recipe: simple syrup (water and sugar), mint and bourbon are poured over crushed ice and garnished with more mint.