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How to Host an Epic Kentucky Derby Party

While the Kentucky Derby only lasts a few minutes, it makes for a whole day of fun. On Saturday, May 4th, the 145th Kentucky Derby will take place, with live coverage of the actual race beginning at 2:30 PM ET!

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Play Dress Up

A blue-ribbon Kentucky Derby party requires proper attire. For women, a bold hat or festive fascinator is essential. A jaunty dress (floral or polka dots are great choices) is also key. Men will want to wear a summery sport coat and a natty pocket square.

These 13 laundry tips may come in handy after your Kentucky Derby dress-up party!

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Send out festive invitations to get guests excited for your epic Kentucky Derby party and be sure to give them plenty of time to get their outfits in order. The official Kentucky Derby website allows party planners to purchase custom invitations as well. These 12 tips will help you plan the ultimate backyard barbecue.

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Serve Traditional Kentucky Food

Residents of the Bluegrass State know a thing or two about proper Kentucky Derby food served the first Saturday in May. Do as the Southerners do and whip up traditional Kentucky cuisine for your party.

  • The Hot Brown: An open-faced sandwich that was first served in 1926 at Louisville’s historic Brown Hotel. It has since become a regional favorite.
  • Buttermilk Fried Chicken: The crown jewel of Southern cuisine.
  • Fried Green Tomatoes: Bright green tomatoes with a spicy cornmeal coating.
  • Benedictine Dip: Benedictine is a creamy spread studded with chopped cucumbers. It was named in honor of Jennie Carter Benedict, a chef and restaurateur from Louisville, Kentucky, who created the condiment at the turn of the 20th century.
  • Country Ham Biscuits: A Derby party favorite, this recipe features salty, cured ham that’s sliced thin, fried and then layered between buttery biscuits.
  • Chocolate Bourbon Derby Pie: Serve up the Kentucky-style dessert, shown here!

Check out these inspiring picnic table ideas.

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Mintvia Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Serve Mint Juleps

For nearly a century, the Mint Julep has been the traditional beverage of Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby. To host an epic Kentucky Derby Party, you must serve this quintessential drink:


  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • Sprigs of fresh mint
  • Crushed ice
  • Bourbon whiskey
  • Silver Julep Cups


  • To make a simple syrup, boil sugar and water together for five minutes.
  • Cool the syrup, transfer to a container with eight sprigs of fresh mint and refrigerate overnight.
  • Make each julep by filling a julep cup with crushed ice. Add one tablespoon of the syrup and two ounces of your choice of bourbon whiskey.
  • Stir rapidly with a spoon.
  • Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.

Check out these super-simple, cute DIY drink holders.

Buy Mint Julep cups now on Amazon.

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Set Up the Ultimate Dinner Table

If you’re opting for a more formal après race dinner, a table setting featuring vibrant bouquets of roses along with these horseshoe party favors is sure to dazzle your guests. If you don’t have a dining table worthy of this type of dinner, check out this gorgeous reclaimed wood table you can build yourself.

Buy it now on Amazon.

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dice iQoncept/Shutterstock

Prepare Some Party Games

Keep your Kentucky Derby party interactive by preparing some wagering games for you and your guests to enjoy. Derby Hat Draw and Vegas at the Derby are two favorites.

Derby Hat Draw

  • Ask each guests to contribute money, candy, etc. to a “pool.”
  • Place the names of the 2019 Derby horses in a hat.
  • Allow guests to draw the name of a horse from the hat.
  • The guest who draws the winning horse wins the pool!

Vegas at the Derby: Wager on Derby Day Traditions

  • How long it will take for the singing of the national anthem?
  • How long it will take the crowd to sing My Old Kentucky Home?
  • The exact length, in minutes and seconds, of the race.

These 12 DIY backyard games and sports courts will bring out the competitive side of all your guests.

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Add a Little Competition

Offer guests a $10 Free Bet on TwinSpires, the Official Betting Site of the Kentucky Derby. Each time a guest signs up using your invitation code, and places their first bet, you’ll get a $10 free bet, and so will your guest! Here’s how to register. You could also purchase these ready-to-print betting slips or make your own!

Check out these 15 tips for the perfect labor day BBQ.

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Stick Horse Race for the Kids

If your Kentucky Derby party is kid-friendly, you can bet they’ll be running around in the backyard as you and your guests sip your mint juleps. Provide stick horses for the kids to play with. This one features a sound button in the ear to make wild horse noises! Or, let each child make their own out of a pool noodle or wrapping paper cardboard tubes, colored paper, markers, googly eyes, yarn and tape.

Another fun game is corn hole. Here are complete instructions for making your own boards.

Here are 25 things you didn’t know you could do with pool noodles.

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Set Up a Watch Party Indoors

Unless your backyard is equipped with a big TV, chances are your guests will be running inside to watch the actual race. Don’t skimp on the details indoors, especially if there is rain in the forecast. Decorate a large table with festive food and drinks and hang a Kentucky Derby banner to help reinforce the theme.

Here are 7 genius ideas for getting everyone a good view of the TV.

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Go Big With a Photo Booth

Let’s face it: there was never a party if there were no pictures, right? Whether you build your own booth with a makeshift tripod, your smartphone and its timer, or you rent the real deal, you’re going to want Derby-worthy photo props for your guests to glam up before striking a pose. This 20-piece kit includes photo booth props that are professionally printed and cut, and are made of sturdy card stock. You’ll also get 20 wooden dowels and stickers. Check out these backyard BBQ tips for Memorial Day.

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Alexa Erickson
Alexa is an experienced lifestyle and news writer, currently working with Reader's Digest, Shape Magazine and various other publications. She loves writing about her travels, health, wellness, home decor, food and drink, fashion, beauty and scientific news. Follow her traveling adventures on Instagram: @living_by_lex, send her a message: [email protected] and check out her website: