What to Expect at the Kentucky Derby
The Kentucky Derby is unlike any other sporting event! With a crowd of more than 150,000 people, unparalleled history and tradition and its unique spectacle, the Kentucky Derby has been described by Forbes as one of the "Greatest Bucket-list Sporting Events" in America. Every year, on the first Saturday in May, thousands of guests gather under the Twin Spires at Churchill Downs to create lifelong memories with their friends and family.
We want you to have the best possible experience at our event, so we've put together some helpful suggestions for your first trip to the Kentucky Derby! Whether you are a first-time guest or a veteran of many Derbys, we hope this brief guide will help you make the most of your visit.
Fashion vs. Comfort
In many ways, the Kentucky Derby is the world’s largest and most entertaining fashion show, with spectacular hats and outfits! You’ll be on your feet and walking a lot as you find your seat, explore the Infield, visit the Paddock Plaza, and make trips to wagering and concession locations to place bets and refill your mint julep. It’s easy to forget about your comfort when you are planning to look as fabulous as possible, so take our Derby veteran tip and pack a pair of flip-flops or ultra-comfortable shoes to change into during the day. Your feet and legs will thank you for it!
Weather, as with any outdoor event, is a wildcard at the Kentucky Derby! From sunshine and cloudless skies that bring sun burnt noses and tan lines to spring showers that make our world-famous tulips bloom, we’ve seen it all. Check the weather before traveling to Louisville, so that you are prepared with climate-appropriate attire. Consider packing sunscreen or a lightweight, clear rain poncho that you can easily slip over your fashionable Derby duds. If your seats are outdoors, you might want to bring chapstick as well! Please note that we do not allow umbrellas at the facility, as they block the views of other guests.
The size and energy of the crowd at the Kentucky Derby is a huge part of the event’s appeal. With on track attendance of over 150,000 people, the Kentucky Derby is significantly larger than comparable sports events such as the Super Bowl, the World Series, or the NCAA Final Four. However, this also means that even seemingly simple tasks, such as finding your friends on the other side of the track or making a trek to the Paddock, can take some time. Veteran attendees agree that the best approach is simply to "roll with it." And despite the 400 new restroom stalls we have added in just the last 2 years, it's still a good idea to head for the facilities well before it becomes an "emergency!"
Safety, Security & What You Can Bring
Given the many attendees at the Kentucky Derby, we take the safety and security of all of our guests very seriously. In addition to our own security staff, Churchill Downs partners with local, state and federal law enforcement to ensure our event runs smoothly and safely.
For the safety of all of our guests, your bag may be searched, and you may be wanded by security. A number of items are also prohibited from entering the facility including:
- Purses larger than 1 foot (12") in any dimension.
- Cameras with detachable lenses, camcorders, and laptop computers.
For a complete list of prohibited items, click here.
Tickets are non-refundable, non-transferrable, and non-replaceable. Due to the sheer size of the event, we do not have the ability to re-issue lost or forgotten tickets. We also do have not a "will-call" booth. You MUST have your tickets in order to get through the gates. Please note the only authorized place to buy & resell Kentucky Derby and Oaks tickets is the Kentucky Derby Ticket Exchange. Law enforcement officials will be on site to prevent scalping.
If you have questions about your tickets in advance of the Derby, please call Churchill Downs customer service at 502-636-4400. To minimize wait times, we encourage you to call as far in advance as possible.
Parking and Access to the Track
Parking at Churchill Downs is limited – we can accommodate 150,000 people in our facility, but not 150,000 cars. If you do not already have an on-site parking pass, here is how we suggest you prepare:
- Take advantage of our shuttle services which continuously transport guests to-and-from designated parking areas surrounding Churchill Downs and downtown Louisville, directly to our entrance gates.
- Use taxi services
Whichever method you choose, be sure to plan your transportation as far in advance as possible. Do not wait until the day of the event.
Seating, Parking, and Transfers for Persons with Disabilities
We want everyone to be able to enjoy the Kentucky Derby and will do our absolute best to accommodate persons with disabilities. Please be aware that due to the size of our event and the historical nature of our facility, we are not able to:
- Offer wheelchairs for rent
- Store wheelchairs of any kind due to limited space
- Offer wheelchair service in the Infield
- And for safety and liability reasons, we cannot take wheelchairs off of our property or into the parking lots
Parking for persons with disabilities is available within designated parking areas at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium and the Kentucky Exposition Center. ADA Accessible busses are available to transport persons with disabilities from the parking areas to Churchill Downs.
If you or someone in your party will need assistance getting to your seats or would like more information about the accessibility of your seating location, we strongly encourage you to call our Guest Services team at least 1 week in advance at 502-636-4400 to ensure appropriate arrangements are in place for your trip to the Kentucky Derby.
Access to Reserved Seating Areas
In order to provide the best experience for all attendees, access to reserved seating areas will be limited to guests with tickets for that particular area. Please be respectful of our ushers and security guards, as they are charged with keeping you comfortable and safe in one of the largest crowds in the world.
New for 2016: Gate Entry Process
Download the Churchill Downs Racing App
Download the Churchill Downs Racing App and enhance your day at the track.
- Pin your car, locate your seating section and map routes to nearby restrooms, concession stands, ATMs & the racetrack’s historical icons
- Skip food & beverage lines with Express Pickup or In-Seat Delivery*
- Place bets directly from your phone**
- Buy, manage & scan mobile tickets
- View videos of Derby horses & behind the scenes content
- Enter to WIN A BOX TO 2017 Kentucky Derby!
*Only available in certain seating sections
Views of the Track
With the 2014 addition of the Big Board, the world’s largest outdoor 4K T.V., more fans than ever before have a view of the racing. However, it is important to note that not all seats offer direct views of the track. Due to the historic nature of our facility, some seats may be located near support poles or other obstructions. In some areas, the crowd itself can be so dense that views are partially blocked. While we cannot guarantee that General Admission patrons will have direct track views, they are able to enjoy views of our Paddock area, where the horses and riders saddle up prior to each race. Please note that aisle ways and the rail can get especially crowded immediately before a big race!
Cellular and Wi-fi Service
Like any major sporting event, the sheer number of people in our facility can make cellular service unpredictable. While our facility has made considerable upgrades – particularly with Verizon and AT&T – be prepared for the possibility of intermittent cell coverage. There is no public Wi-Fi available on Oaks and Derby Days.
Cash is King!
While ATM's are plentiful throughout our facility, lines can be long at peak wagering times. One "pro tip" our veteran Derby attendees have shared with us is to bring plenty of cash. It will save you time and allow you to place your bets more quickly. Please note: due to state law, bets may not be placed using a credit card.
In case of an emergency, or if you get lost or separated from your party, you may find yourself in need of assistance from our staff. With over 14,000 employees throughout the track on Derby day, chances are, you aren’t too far from someone who can help. Our Guest Services reps and gate staff will be wearing red shirts and/or coats. In addition to them, you will see ushers wearing bright yellow shirts windbreakers as well as a variety of uniformed security personnel. If you can not find an employee to help you, please text the word HORSE to 69050 and you will be placed in touch with Guest Services.
Making the Most of Your Trip
If this is your first Kentucky Derby, we encourage you to make the most of your trip! Explore Louisville and the greater Bluegrass Region. Visit a bourbon distillery on Kentucky’s famous bourbon trail. Even better, visit a horse farm and see what it takes to be a Thoroughbred race horse.
- Click here to explore all the city of Louisville has to offer.
- Learn more about the events of the month long, city-wide Kentucky Derby Festival
For security and crowd control reasons, re-entry is not permitted at the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby. This means that you will not be able to go outside the gates to retrieve items from your car once you have passed through security. Please be sure to bring everything you need and pay special attention to our list of prohibited items when you enter the track.
As so many have before you, we know you're going to have a great time at the Kentucky Derby. We look forward to welcoming you to "our hallowed ground" and to seeing you again in the years to come!