How to Throw the a Fantastic Kentucky Derby Party


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The actual Kentucky Derby may only last a few minutes (it's not called "the most exciting two minutes in sports" for nothing) but the entire event is a day-long festivity. Start planning your parties now: this year's Derby will take place on Saturday, May 6, 2023.

From a Derby-worthy ensemble (including a hat or fascinator, of course) to the perfect mint julep recipe, here's how to throw a truly memorable Kentucky Derby party.

1. Set the Tone With the Invitations

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The Kentucky Derby makes for the ultimate theme party, so you want to prepare your guests to celebrate all-things Derby. A Derby party invitation, like this editable, printable version from Etsy, should be equal parts informative and festive to set the tone. Specify "Derby attire" on the invite if you want everyone to dress the part, and be prepared to offer outfit inspiration or potluck menu suggestions to your guests if they're not familiar with the race day protocol, so everyone can properly commit to the theme.

2. Remember the Dress Code

kentucky derby 147
Michael Hickey - Getty Images

Guests will follow the host's lead on what to wear to a Derby day party, so you have permission to go all-out: major hat, full suit, a dramatic dress—the Derby is no time to be understated.

Sharing a few style guidelines with guests can also be helpful: a bold hat or festive fascinator is essential for the ladies, along with a bright dress or printed ensemble. Men can opt for a colorful suit (perhaps a pastel?), or stick to seasonal essentials with Derby-specific accessories, like a needlepoint belt or a Derby pocket square.

If you want to entice your guests to step up their style game and aren't afraid of a little friendly competition, hold a best dressed contest by having everyone anonymously vote for their favorite outfit. The winner earns every Derby day's top prize: bragging rights.

3. Don't Forget Your Derby Decorations

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The Derby day outfits will speak for themselves, but your party space will need a little dressing up to match the theme. Roses are a must-have Derby decoration, since the Derby is also referred to as "The Run for the Roses." The Derby winner receives over 400 roses sewn into a blanket after the race, so give your guests a similar treat with a rose centerpiece at your Derby party.

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Looking for a little more festive decor? Pinterest and Etsy are both wells of inspiration and ideas.

4. Set Up to Stream

Since the Derby itself only lasts a few minutes (don't worry, there's a full day of racing beforehand to enjoy), you'll want to plan ahead so you don't miss any of the action. Here's the scoop on how to watch and stream the big moment.

Consider setting up a timer somewhere all your guests can see so that nobody gets too swept up in conversation that they miss the big event.

5. School Your Guests with Fun Derby Day Facts

The outfits are fun and all, but you can add a little substance to your event with facts about the iconic race and its history. Before the race starts, impress your guests with our handy list of surprising Derby facts. Or print them out and use them as another decoration! Either way, your guests leave will some new knowledge under their belts.

6. Prepare the Signature Derby Drink: a Mint Julep

kentucky derby party
Getty Images

Since becoming the event's official drink in 1938, no Derby party has been complete without a mint julep. Nowadays, almost 120,000 mint juleps are served during Kentucky Derby weekend at Churchill Downs. The official julep recipe consists of bourbon, crushed ice, sugar, water, and fresh mint, but if you're looking for a twist on the classic, check out these recipes to take your mint julep to the next level. Or if juleps just aren't your thing, we have other race day cocktail ideas here too.

7. Stick to Southern Classics

Your Derby Day menu should remain on theme. You can try a few classic Southern dishes, like a pimento cheese dip and smoked grits. Or, if you want a menu straight from the source, you're in luck: the official Kentucky Derby website offers all the race day recipes you'll need. The site includes menu items that are served at Churchill Downs, like Kentucky burgoo and shrimp succotash salad, but our favorite Derby dish by far has to be the Instagram-worthy "jar-cuterie"—a whole charcuterie plate in one handy Mason jar. Yes, please.

8. Let Your Guests Pick the Winner

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Add a little competition to your Derby bash with betting slips, so your guests can bet on the winner of the race. You can create a DIY version yourself, or buy pre-made betting slips from Etsy. (If you need a little guidance on race betting etiquette, betting site Twin Spires offers a beginners guide.) Then, sit back (mint julep in hand) and enjoy.

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