I can taste the Mint Juleps now. I can see the oversized bows, hats, and seersuckers galore. If y’all are going to Derby, good luck out there, it is an adventure. There’s a reason why there is bourbon around every corner. Your patience will grow that day. If y’all are going to the infield at the Derby, bless your hearts and stay alive. I mean that in the best way possible, of course. Both options are incredibly fun but sometimes a little too much fun if you catch my drift. You know what they say, a darling hat, a cute dress, I’m about to be a drunken mess. If you can’t make it to Churchill Downs but you still want to be a part of the Derby Day experience, I have some alternative options for you.
I’ll let y’all in on a little local secret. If you live in Kentucky, you’re probably not going to be at Churchill Downs. While it is a beautiful place, the day could be a potential headache if you are not mentally prepared for the traffic, massive crowd, and parking nightmare. Hey, don’t get me wrong. I encourage everyone to go to Churchill at least once in their lives but you need to be prepared with patience and probably a little buzz. It’s just not my cup of bourbon and coke. However, Keeneland definitely is.
My goodness, Keeneland season is a two month holiday in Kentucky. The day after Keeneland closes is essentially like the day after Christmas. Maybe a little dramatic but you get my point. However, many people don’t know that Keeneland is open on Derby Day and it’s not quite what people might expect. For one, you can go inside Keeneland and tailgate. Yes y’all, inside. As soon as you enter Keeneland and arrive on the paddock, you will see hundreds of people with food, derby décor, derby hats, and a mint julep in hand. You can bring in tables, chairs, food and nonalcoholic drinks (if you aren’t sneaky enough to bring other adult beverages in). There is live music, dancing, and flat screens all around displaying the derby races. People are there as soon as the doors open at 9 am and don’t leave until the last race is finished. Honestly, it’s one of the best times you will ever have.
If you don’t feel like getting up early and staying the entire time at Keeneland, I’d suggest two things. One, make friends fast with the people next to you. Once you place your tables and chairs down to reserve your area, people usually don’t mess with your things. That’s just southern hospitality. If you’re paranoid and don’t trust leaving your items, make friends with the people next to you and ask if they can just keep an eye on your area until you come back. Mostly likely, they won’t mind. But if there is some hesitation, bourbon, in return for the favor, usually wins people over down here. Second option is to go to the Hill. The Hill is where the majority of college kids stay during Keeneland season since you can bring your own alcohol and tailgate before going in to watch the races. The Hill during Keeneland meets and even on Derby Day stream the races live on a giant projector screen so people usually stay up there if they get a little white girl wasted to go inside of Keeneland. Either way, you can never go wrong with a visit to Keeneland on the first Saturday of May.
May your Derby Day be filled with cute dresses, bourbon, and a little southern hospitality!