Kentucky Derby Festival - Recommendations for Activities from MangoRV

Kentucky Derby Festival - Recommendations for Activities from MangoRV

Jockeys fought for position on the first pass in the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. May 4, 2019. Image courtesy: Sam Upshaw Jr. Courier-Journal.

The Kentucky Derby is the single most sensational horse racing event in the US. The festival is not just
about racing horses, but a complete lifestyle. It has its own vibrant fashion scene, cuisine, and culture.
Let us take a close look at this festival and see why it is an absolute must-see!

The Kentucky Derby Festival (KDF) is an annual festival regularly held in Louisville, Kentucky. It is held in
the last two weeks of April every year. The festival is the state of Kentucky`s largest annual event.

Kentucky Derby: A Historical Perspective

Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr. initially started the Kentucky Derby. He was the grandson of the world-
renowned explorer William Clark. Clark Junior had been inspired by horse races that he had seen in
mainland Europe. After coming stateside, he started to raise the money to build the 'Churchill Downs'
the racing circuit on land donated by his uncles.

In 1872, Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr traveled to Europe, where he got the chance to visit some of the
world's leading horse-racing sites in England and France. He was greatly inspired by England's famous
Epsom Downs racecourse, which had been home of the Derby Stakes since 1780, a 1.5-mile race for
three-year-old horses. This Derby had been organized by the 12th Earl of Derby and his close friends.
Clark returned home to Kentucky, determined to replicate the leading derbies in Europe. His initial
achievement was the foundation of the Louisville Jockey Club. He also managed to construct a racetrack
on his family’s land.

Clark had always been famous for throwing extravagant parties, and he bought his free-spirited party
going reveler lifestyle to the racetrack as well. He envisioned his racetrack as the most happening place
in town. He aimed to gift the city a festival where the city's more stylish residents would gather and
enjoy his parties along with the races.

This aspect of the Kentucky Derby is very much alive to this day. The Derby is not just a simple
racecourse, but a complete lifestyle itself. It is a place where the who's who of the country dress up and
hobnob with, and try to outdo each other in terms of their party dresses and fashion sense.

In the inaugural Derby held on May 17, 1875, an estimated 10,000 people showed up to watch a field of
15 three-year-old thoroughbred horses race for 1.5 miles. For a brand new track whose publicity was
almost due only to word of mouth, this was a massive crowd. It has never looked back since those
heady days, and every years’ attendance eclipses the previous years’ crowds.

Churchill Downs

The Churchill Downs Race Track is located on main Central Avenue in south Louisville, Kentucky. This is
one of the most popular thoroughbred racetracks in the world. It is famous for hosting the iconic
Kentucky Derby (KD) every year. Just about all Kentucky Derby racehorses are some of the fastest horses
in the world.

The Churchill Downs racetrack holds the distinction of holding both the first Kentucky Derby and the first
Kentucky Oaks in the same year. Apart from these two globally renowned races, this race track has
played host to the well-known Breedersє Cup on at least nine separate occasions. This race track is
wholly owned and operated by "Churchill Downs Incorporated."
  • Architecture

There are two spires that are located directly above the main grandstands. These twin spires are the
single most recognizable architectural feature of this race track. They are used as a symbol of both the
Kentucky Derby itself as well as its main track. The total covered area of the race track and all of its
structures are around 147 acres.

On an average day, the Churchill Downs race track easily hosts crowds of around 50,000 people or so.
But come Derby day, this already large number may swell up to around 170,000, which is this tracks’
total spectator capacity.

  • The Race Track

The Derby itself is run on the main dirt oval track. This track is one mile (1.6 km) in circumference and
approximately 79 to 80 feet (24.1 to 24.4 m) wide. The starting gate section is 120 feet (37m) wide.
There is also another turf track that is located inside the main track. This smaller track is 80 feet (24 m)
wide and 7⁄ 8 mile (1.4 km) in circumference. Most Kentucky Derby Race Horses run on these tracks.

The Various Events at the Kentucky Derby

While the actual racetrack is the Kentucky Derby's beating heart, it is not the sole reason that brings
people here. Here are some remarkable events that make it worth your while to drive over in your
rented MangoRV.

  • Thunder over Louisville (TOL)
The aptly named 'Thunder over Louisville is the annual kickoff event of the KDF, and it consists of an
airshow and a fireworks display. This is the largest fireworks show in all of North America, and many
people attend the festival to marvel at the TOL show.

Thunder kicks off in the late afternoon with an air show featuring fighter jets. This show is followed by massive fireworks show that starts at 9:30 PM. An average of 625,000 people attend the TOL Kentucky Derby fiesta each year. The banks of the Ohio River in Louisville are lined with spectators who stretch all the way and across the river into Clarksville, Indiana, and Jeffersonville.

Eight huge 400-foot barges launch these fireworks from either or both sides of the George Rogers Clark
Memorial Bridge. In the past few TOL festivals, the bridge itself has become a launch site for the best
fireworks display.

As of now, the estimated attendance at Thunder over Louisville is approximately five times that of the
festival's main attraction, the Kentucky Derby horse race at the Churchill Downs racetrack.
Image Description: The five women selected to serve as Princesses in the 2020 Kentucky Derby Festival
Royal Court were introduced in a ceremony at Macy’s in Oxmoor Center.

  • The Royal Court
This delightful bit of pageantry is among the oldest traditions of the KD Festival, dating back to the
1950s. The Royal Court consists of five young women who are chosen to preside over the many events
related to this Derby. These young ladies represent both the Derby Festival as well as the city of
Louisville that plays host to the festival. They are selected from a large pool of thousands of applicants.

Selection criteria include intelligence, knowledge of the Derby Festival, personality, poise, academic
excellence, and campus and community involvement.

The Royal Court attends around 70 events during the fortnight leading up to the Kentucky Derby. Finally,
the queen of the festival is selected by a spin of the wheel at the Derby Ball. The queen gets VIP access
to all events.

  • Pegasus Parade
This is also an important part of the festival and is included in the pre-race festivities. The parade excites
both locals and guests alike with floats, marching bands, inflatables, equestrian units, and even
celebrities from around the country. This festival is the cornerstone on which the entire festival is based.
Among the most spectacular units of the parade are its larger-than-life floats that are some of the most
animated and colorful displays in the country.

  • Fest-a-Ville

Most of the Waterfront Park during the festival is billed as "Fest-a-Ville." From the Chow Wagon to
various rides to an endless stream of concerts, the Fest-a-Ville has it all. If you like to swing to country
beats or sway away to some classic pop while sampling the different edibles, you have to get to the
Derby in time to enjoy the Fest-a-Ville.

Kentucky Derby Location: Getting to the Venue

The Derby Festival is located in and near the city of Louisville. You can get on the road to the Kentucky
derby via Interstate 64.

Together with SR 265 and KY 841, the interstate 265 now constitutes a beltway that encircles the Falls
City area of southeast Indiana and also goes all the way up to the city of Louisville in Kentucky. The roads
are wide enough to accommodate even large RVs.

RV Parking Spots

If you want to get the best of this grand festival, it will make sense to stay for the full two-week duration
of the Derby. There are plenty of onsite and offsite RV parking locations at the Kentucky Derby game,
and you can find plenty of amenities there.

  • Derby Park Expo Five

It is located just blocks from the Churchill Downs track. This RV Park is the place to be, if you want to
dive right into the festivities up close and personal. All you have to do is walk down the street, and you
will be at the race within minutes. The park itself is just a mere ten-minute drive to downtown Louisville.

You will be able to see Churchill Downs from the comfort of your RV. Best of all, you won't have to leave
the site to enjoy some great live music.

* Amenities

       o Back-in and Pull-through Sites: Both available
       o Full Hookups: Yes
       o 30/50 Amp: Both
       o Showers availability: Yes
       o Pets Allowed: Yes
       o Free Wi-Fi
       o Onsite dump station
       o Outdoor grill and patio
       o Onsite breakfast served on event days
       o Daily live music
       o Karaoke
       o Louisville South KOA

This family-friendly park is in Shepherdsville, Kentucky, at walking distance from Churchill Downs and
downtown Louisville.

Your young ones will love this park since it comes with its own large outdoor swimming pool and a mini-
golf course. Throw in bike rentals, a large playground, and a massive outdoor movie screen, and you will
see why it's such a popular RV spot for people visiting Kentucky Derby horse races.

The campground holds fun events and activities such as tie-dying shirts and Halloween parties. If you
want to enjoy the Derby and keep your kids entertained, this is the ideal campground for you.

* Amenities

     o Pool/Hot tub: Yes
     o Pets Allowed: Yes
     o Showers: Yes
     o Back-in and Pull-through Sites: Yes

  • Tickets

There are several ways when it comes to buying Kentucky Derby tickets. Kentucky Derby offers an
annual online sale every year where you can purchase individual one-time tickets in advance. Multi-year
tickets can also be reserved via a Personal Seat License (PSL). Personal seat boxes range from $3000 to
$8000 all-inclusive. Individual tickets start from $108 and go up to $1500 for general stand admissions

Moreover, you can also acquire a Season Box or Turf Club membership card. If you are part of a large
corporate group, you can also secure tickets for corporate hospitality. Alternately, you can also become
a Kentucky Derby business partner. These are much more expensive than PSL and individual tickets.

Attire for the Kentucky Derby

This is an outdoor affair in late spring, so make sure you dress accordingly. Hats are always in, and the
'Derby Bowler' has made a name for itself as the pan-ultimate part of your Derby attire. The general
enclosures have a riot of colors and shapes as far as headwear is concerned. However, the seated
enclosures are relatively semi-formal, and the hats tend to run more on the discreet and elegant side.

Always remember that business casual is the routine attire for this event, and you should be dressed in
jackets and blazers and collared shirts and sweaters. Pantsuits and slacks are also allowed at the
Churchill Downs Racetrack.

For fashionable ladies, KD's official partner Vineyard Vines has created a whole new line of floral dresses
to match the spirit of the occasion.

No Derby day can be complete without heels and sandals. However, do make sure to tote some flats
with you since you will be on your feet on the damp ground all day.

Just be sure to take a water bottle with you to the KDF. You don't want to get dehydrated with all that
excitement. Also, powerful sunblock (at least SPF 45) is a must. And if you are a fan of horse racing, a
powerful pair of binoculars will definitely help get you to the front seat, regardless of your seating


The Kentucky Derby is undoubtedly one of the most popular festivals in the entire continental US. It is
the ultimate opportunity to enjoy outdoor living from your RV. You don't have to be a horse racing
enthusiast to get captivated by the festive atmosphere and the fun and games.
Its many events mean that there is something for everyone at the Kentucky Derby. So just hop onto a
Mango RV, and rest assured that adventures are waiting for you!