How to Plan a Kentucky Derby Viewing Party

Elegant or Rowdy, Make your Derby Party a Day to Remember

Kentucky Derby Hats. Getty Images/Jamie Squire

And they're off! Those three little words ignite what's been termed the most exciting two minutes in sports. This year the 141st Kentucky Derby, the 'run for the roses', will be held on Saturday, May 2nd, 2015.

I've been a Yankee all my life, but that doesn't stop me from enjoying this southern spectacle. Even way up here in the northeast, I manage to catch the excitement of the day, the anticipation of seeing the fine thoroughbreds of the Derby run the biggest race of their young lives.

The speculation and hype leading up to the big day captures my attention, and by post time I've chosen my favorite.

The partying in Louisville during the two weeks leading up to the Derby is similar to Mardi Gras in New Orleans. It's a community-wide celebration with steamboat races, fireworks, a hot-air balloon race, and private parties. In many cases the race is merely an excuse for the hundreds of parties that take place.

The crowd at the Derby comes in two flavors. There are the rich and famous and then there are the regular folk who you can see populating the infield. If you've ever watched the race, you know the media loves to cover the wealthy, horse-owning set in their silks, linens, and dramatic Kentucky Derby hats, as they breathlessly watch each thundering hoof pummel down the track to the finish. However, most people get to see very little of the live race, let alone the finish, unless they catch a broadcast of it.

If you've decided to join the action this year, you can choose to make your party an elegant, high-society event, or a wild and crazy infield-type bash, because either one will capture the flavor of the day.

What to Serve and How to Decorate

  • For an elegant southern affair you should use your finest silver, crystal, linens and china. Decorate with large bouquets of red roses. Ask your florist to design a horseshoe shaped wreath of roses as a centerpiece for your table. Serve a beautiful luncheon buffet with tea sandwiches, dips (including the regional specialty Benedictine, cold seafood, and assorted salads.
  • For a more casual bash, plan a southern barbecue with ribs, biscuits, corn on the cob, and salad. Use red and white checked tablecloths. Decorate with spring flowers or roses. And if you collect horse figures, don't forget to pull them out to decorate your tables.
  • At either party Mint Juleps are the drink of the day and Kentucky Derby Pie is the preferred dessert. Chocolate Bourbon Balls also make a tasty treat for your guests.

What to Do

  • Need I remind you? Make sure you have a large screen television in good working order that day!
  • Provide all of your guests with current Daily Racing Forms and set up your own betting pool to add to the excitement of the day. Insist that your guests wear dramatic hats; they can be elegant or creatively crazy. Award prizes for the best hats in both categories.
  • Print copies of the lyrics to My Old Kentucky Home, and write the menu for the day on the reverse side. Guests can keep this as a souvenir of the day.
  • Purchase official Mint Julep glasses for your party. Give them to your guests as souvenirs.