May 1, 2018

Kentucky Derby: History & Tips


You’ll find horse racing tracks all across the country but none are more epic than the Kentucky Derby, the longest running sporting event in U.S. history. What began as a small gambling operation in 1875 has evolved into an American institution involving mint juleps, fancy old-fashioned hats, and the winning spirit “The Race of the Roses.”

Today, it’s more than fancy cocktails and high fashion but also a betting game involving millions in transactions. In fact, in 2012, the wagering broke records at $133.1 million. If you’re off to the races, discover historical highlights of this once a year event along with travel tips that will keep you and your entourage in the running.

Over the years, this historic sporting competition has gone through many changes, notably its transition to technology when the race was broadcast on the radio for the first time in 1925. It was several decades later in 1952 when the Kentucky Derby took part in its first live televised coverage.

The Derby was always known as being a men-only sport until Diane Crump became the first female jockey in 1970. She didn’t win the race but she did break new ground for future women in horse racing.   

Here’s another fun historical tidbit: written by Stephen Foster in 1853, “My Old Kentucky Home” became the official state song of Kentucky in 1928. Keeping with tradition, you’ll hear the song played by the University of Louisville Marching Band each day of the Derby. Join in on the fun by learning the lyrics and singing along with the partygoers.

Travel Tips


Dubbed “the most exciting two minutes in sports,” the Kentucky Derby is a unique event that takes place the first Saturday in May. What sets the Derby apart from other sporting events is the upscale party atmosphere, including the exclusive “Millionaire’s Row,” a luxury clubhouse that used to be the most expensive seating section at the race.

A table for eight costs $27,200, but even pricier is The Mansion, which first opened in 2014. To purchase a ticket you must wait for an invitation and then be prepared to pay $7,500 to $14,000 per person. The ticket price includes a personal concierge who takes you via golf cart to a red carpet entrance where celebrities often stop for glamorous photo ops.

While the luxury seating might be on your bucket list, it doesn’t fit everyone’s budget, which is why the Derby offers general admission for $60, which includes entrance to the park, access to the infield and paddock. The party atmosphere on the infield can be a lot of fun, but the location doesn’t offer the best viewing experience. For a better view of the race, you have the option to upgrade to Grandstand seats, which start at $329 and up, depending on when you buy your tickets.

Chartering a Bus

When it comes to affordability, comfort, and convenience, a charter bus wins the Triple Crown for transportation to the Derby. Compared to limo rentals, taxis, or ride sharing services, renting a bus is significantly less expensive. It’s also more fun with a large group because it allows racetrack fans to spend time together on the ride to Churchill Downs in Louisville. Renting a charter bus to and from the Kentucky Derby is also more affordable than airfare, plus it takes you directly to the race.

At Metropolitan Shuttle, our affordable bus rental includes a range of vehicles that are designed for the long haul, including luxury amenities like reclining seats, TV screens, fiber optic lighting, and onboard restrooms. Some charter buses even include a kitchenette and eating area, as well as separate sleeping compartments.

Chartering a bus to Louisville for the Kentucky Derby also helps you avoid the race-day rush and the limited amount of taxis available. You also don’t have to worry about hidden costs of travel such as parking fees, gas, and interstate tolls, which can add up quickly.

Find out how much you save by chartering a bus from Metropolitan Shuttle.      

What to Wear

The Kentucky Derby is all about tradition and a big part of its history involves fashion, so it’s worth the effort to put some thought into choosing the right outfit. Many people are dressed formally, which means a sports coat or suit for the gents and a formal dress and big hats for the ladies. In fact, the dress code varies depending on the seating section.

For women seated in the reserved areas, including the Grandstand, Clubhouse, and suites, they typically wear the latest spring designs like bright pastel dresses or power suits and coordinating headwear. If you’re having trouble picking out the perfect outfit, Vineyard Vines is the official label of the Kentucky Derby and offers a line of dresses specially design for the race.

When it comes to accessorizing, it’s all about the hat, which epitomizes the Southern tradition of Kentucky. Make your headgear stand out during the famous Kentucky Derby hat parade, which brings out everybody’s inner Southern belle. The featured milliner of the racetrack is Christine A. Moore, a designer who creates elegant and easy-to-wear hats that really stand out. If you’re on a budget, you’ll fit right in with the infield crowd when you wear a custom designed hat adorned with items found around the house or at a hobby store.  

If you’re chomping at the bit, put on your party hat and head to the Derby because you might get lucky in Kentucky.

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