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Derby Party Planning Guide: Tips and Ideas to Make Your Party Unforgettable

The Kentucky Derby, a cherished southern tradition since 1875, conjures images of charm and sophistication. However, there's a vibrant and wild side to the Derby experience that unfolds in the infamous infield, where the ultimate...

Derby Party Planning Guide

The Kentucky Derby, a cherished southern tradition since 1875, conjures images of charm and sophistication. However, there's a vibrant and wild side to the Derby experience that unfolds in the infamous infield, where the ultimate mud-slinging party takes place. But not everyone can make it to Louisville every year for the Derby. That's where the "Derby Party" comes in – a perfect opportunity for friends and family to celebrate in their own special ways. Whether you're planning an upscale affair or a lively gathering, we've got you covered with these tips to get your guests in the spirit!

1. Themes: Setting the Tone

The best way to kick-start any party is with a unique theme. Fortunately, the rich history of the Kentucky Derby offers endless inspiration. Whether you're a history buff, a fashionista, or a sports fanatic, you can tailor your Derby party to reflect your interests and those of your guests. Incorporate win, place, and show betting sheets for the betting enthusiasts, or create fun-filled games to entertain and inform your guests. Invite them to dress up according to the theme and let the festivities begin!

2. Dress to Impress: Hat Up!

Derby Hat

When it comes to Derby fashion, one item stands out above all – the perfect hat. The Derby hat is a fun and expressive part of the celebration, so encourage your guests to think outside the "hat box." There's an array of options for both men and women, so align your hat choices with the kind of celebration you're hosting. For a remote infield party, suggest comfortable ball caps for gentlemen and hassle-free fascinators for ladies. If you're rolling out the red carpet, encourage your guests to get creative with their couture. Consider organizing a hat contest or hat decorating event for added excitement!

3. Set the Mood: Bringing Churchill Downs Home

Derby Party Decor

Creating the right atmosphere is essential for a memorable Derby party. Take inspiration from Churchill Downs and recreate the fun and excitement at your venue. Hang official Art of the Derby posters, place votive candles in julep glasses along the walkway, or incorporate recycled horseshoes from the track into your decor. Add pizazz to your entertaining table with dynamic centerpieces and table settings, such as julep cups filled with red roses or a 3-D Churchill Downs puzzle. Personalize each guest's experience by offering a Kentucky Derby Museum exclusive tac pin or a thoughtful party favor. Finish off your table with a classic southern brunch and refreshing Mint Juleps.

4. Sharing the Derby Fun: Games and Activities

Derby Party Games

Leading up to the thrilling two minutes of the race, engage your guests with Derby-themed games and activities. Encourage conversation and build familiarity by attaching name tags to lanyards given to each guest upon arrival. Foster a sense of camaraderie with a fun "Getting to Know You" game, where guests ask each other Kentucky Derby-related questions and gather signatures. Triple Crown Bingo is another exciting option, challenging guests to complete a "triple crown" of wins. For outdoor parties, freeze mini plastic horses in serving cups and enjoy watching them race as they melt down a slick surface. And don't forget to involve your guests in betting, not only for the winner but also for the last-place loser. Award them with an unofficial Loser's Cup for added humor!

5. Don't Forget the Young Ones: Kids' Activities

Derby Party for Kids

Ensure your party is inclusive of everyone, including the kids. Set up a separate section where they can enjoy activities like stick pony races, building Derby hats using recyclable materials, or engaging in creative arts and crafts. Let them take home their creations as memorable favors. Alternatively, you can provide them with stuffed friends like the adorable Churchill Charlie plush, ensuring endless entertainment before and after the big race!

6. A Photo Finish: Capture the Memories

Derby Party Photos

Set up a themed photo shoot or photo booth to add an extra touch of fun to your Derby party. Create a designated photo station with a horse racing flag or a painted background. Offer your guests Derby-themed props like racing crops, jockey goggles, or fancy hats. After the party, send them a keepsake photo developed and framed in a Kentucky Derby frame, or simply share loose prints. Capture the moments and make lasting memories!

No matter how you plan your Derby party, the ultimate goal is to enjoy the Kentucky Derby live from Churchill Downs. To ensure your guests feel prepared, provide them with information about the competing horses or the words to My Old Kentucky Home, so everyone can sing along before the race. Get your party out of the starting gate and onto the track with these tips and ideas!

For more party favors and decor, visit the Derby Museum Store. By Jessica Whitehead, Retail Website Coordinator