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Get a Head Start on Your Kentucky Derby House Party

Get a Head Start on Your Kentucky Derby House Party

As You Design Your Celebration, Embrace Tradition

For some, the first Saturday in May is always special with the classic running of the rose from Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. But the next best thing to going is to host your own Derby party. From the fashionable hats to the festive food, the Kentucky Derby provides us all with an opportunity for a little Southern hospitality. If you’re planning on hosting a get-together, we’re offering a quick guide to all the traditions and how to bring them home. Continue reading to learn more and see if you can finish in under two minutes! 

Decide on a Party Style

The first step in planning your Derby-watch party is deciding how you want to celebrate. The style of your party will depend on several factors including your guest list and the style of your home. Here are three party options to consider:

  • Brunch: Provide your guests with a full sit-down meal. This option will require some extra planning. You’ll need to reach out to caterers, bartenders, and entertainment vendors about a month before the Derby. Frankly, there’s no better way to create an intimate gathering of close friends to watch the race.
  • Garden Party: A stylish and traditional choice! Perhaps, you’re looking forward to unveiling your exquisitely landscaped backyard this spring. Arrange tables and chairs throughout the space. Feel free to fill your garden with classic Southern flowers, like roses, hydrangeas, and magnolias.
  • Backyard Party: For more of a casual feel, throw a backyard BBQ or potluck. You can invite more people, including kids! Even if some of your guests don’t want to watch the race, you can incorporate yard games and other activities, so there’s something for everyone.

The invitation will set the tone for your party: whether you want a formal gathering or a more casual affair. Either way, you can’t go wrong with a horse or hat themed card. Try to get invitations out by April 10th to make sure all your friends will be there! Whichever style fits you best, the decision will impact your plans for the rest of your party.

Design Your Menu

The style of your party will especially affect your menu selection. However, whether you’re serving a fully catered meal, hors d’oeuvres, or hosting a potluck, stick to the Southern standards like beef tenderloin crostini and sweet potato hash for Derby day.

If you’re serving a full brunch, add some classic Kentucky delicacies. Kentucky Burgoo could be a great addition to the menu. This spicy stew of meats and vegetables is traditionally served with corn bread. But, whatever you do, don’t forget the biscuits and gravy!

For a garden party, it’s all about the sandwich. Your menu could include passed mini-sandwiches that interpret classic Southern dishes or sandwiches, like the Hot Brown. First served at the Brown Hotel in Louisville, this sandwich includes turkey, bacon, and Mornay sauce toasted on bread and sprinkled with parmesan cheese.

A backyard party is a perfect excuse to heat up the grill. Of course, there are many competing theories when it comes to the perfect barbecue, but on the day of the derby go the Kentucky route. Try a version of the Kentucky Black BBQ sauce to compliment your meats.

Don’t forget the beverages! Of course, the mint julep is the traditional derby day drink. Consider crafting your cocktails the night before to enhance the flavor, plus, it takes a little stress out of party day. We particularly like this recipe from Woodford Reserve, the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby.

See Also: A Private Sommelier Will Transform Your Next Party

Pick Your Outfit

The fashion is one of the most important aspects of a Derby party. From its beginning in 1875, the Kentucky Derby has been a showcase for fine garments and, especially, hats. Wearing a hat to the Kentucky Derby is said to bring good luck to the wearer--something you might need if you’re making a bet. When it comes to overall attire, the Derby is a chance to dress up, especially if you’re hosting a more formal event.

For the ladies, a cocktail dress accessorized with pearls and a hat. The best part about selecting your Derby hat is that there are no rules. You can go for a traditional sun hat or something a little wilder. Don’t be afraid to make a statement!

For the gentlemen, pick a suit with an unusual fabric, like seersucker or tweed. Derby day is your chance to bring out the bowtie and those colorful socks. Men, too, can get in on the hat action, perhaps finding a matching derby style hat.

If guests are coming in their best, consider offering a photo shoot. A traditional Derby flag can create a nice backdrop and they’re easy to find!

Place Your Bets

Adding a little monetary incentive can spice up race day; it’s always more fun to watch when there’s something on the line. You can officially wager at TwinSpires, a partner of the Derby, or place friendly wagers among party goers. The Derby usually doesn’t begin until around 6 p.m. Eastern time, but you’ll find a full schedule of races that day to watch and bet on. 

Either way, you will want to pay attention to the odds and understand the payout system. If the odds are 3-2, then for every two dollars you spend you will receive three dollars in profit, or you will be paid back five dollars. Also, consider doing a little research before the race. Read up on the horses themselves and the conditions at Churchill Downs on the day.

If don’t want to offer wagering, consider a drawing. Have guests draw a horse and offer small gifts like roses or carnations for the first, second, and third place winners. If you want to stay away from competition all together: give all guests a gift for coming. Start a tradition of your own and offer commemorative Derby glasses. Each year, the glasses change in design, so you and your friends can collect a fun set.

Horses, hats, highballs and happy people make this Saturday in May special. If you’re interested in hearing more about the luxury lifestyle year-round, then subscribe to our monthly learning journal.

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