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Ways to celebrate the 150th Kentucky Derby

So you don’t have tickets to the biggest sporting event in the history of the commonwealth?     

There are other ways—and other days—to celebrate the 150th Kentucky Derby on May 4 at Churchill Downs, including embracing the history that led up to the Kentucky Derby. Which, by the way, didn’t commit to its iconic First Saturday in May date until 1938. It used to be  held later in the month and, for its first 40 runnings, fell on a weekday.

Organized horse racing in Kentucky started decades before the first Kentucky Derby of 1875, the year after Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr. formed the Louisville Jockey Club and acquired land for the racetrack from his uncles John and Henry Churchill.

To learn more about this fascinating heritage, the Kentucky Historical Society offers the “Explore KY’s Horse History” digital tour through 19 historical markers that each tell a story.

But what’s a horse race without getting a tip? Here are other touts for enjoying Derby 150 remotely—be it May 4 or almost any day.

Kentucky Derby Museum: Derby every day

Given its motto of “Derby every day,” the award-winning Kentucky Derby Museum was gearing up for the 150th Derby years before Derby 149, says museum Director of Communications Katrina Helmer. 

That includes a high-tech overhaul of the museum’s popular Riders Up! exhibit. The permanent exhibit is scheduled to open around the second week in April. Museum guests can mount a faux horse and, thanks to technology, get the feel of riding a racehorse in different decades. New this year, two additional horses, including one that is wheelchair accessible, will extend the experience.

“It’s going to be very much 21st century, video game, virtual-reality look to it,” Helmer says. “It’s one of the exhibits that whether you’re a kid or an adult coming through here, everyone goes to it. You’re riding on a horse and it gives you the feel of a jockey in a race with the screen in front of you. So much of Churchill Downs has changed over time. Now you’ll see an updated version of Churchill as you’re ‘riding.’”

April 11 is the premiere of the museum’s Derby 150 film, a 5–7 minute film that will play every hour in front of The Greatest Race video that is updated every year to reflect the reigning winner. The new video provides a historic understanding of the Derby and how traditions have changed, Helmer says.

Some new Derby artifacts also are on display in Long Shots, an exhibit that opened at the end in March. 

The museum is the official Derby tour provider. Special tours run April 20-May 1, including those focused on watching Kentucky Derby and Oaks contenders train as well as the Derby Legends Experience. Click here for more information or to book.

Kentucky Derby Museum : 704 Central Ave., Louisville, (502) 637-1111; Open every day except for Thursday, Friday and Saturday of Derby Week, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas.

Watch at home in festive style

Putting on a Derby party? Looking for merch to celebrate the Derby season and the historic 150th Derby? Check out Churchill Downs’ official party and retail website, which offers recipes, fashion tips and party ideas; and the Kentucky Derby Museum Store. Churchill Downs promotes the “Derby at Home” experience for those not at the track. 

As a nod to Derby 150, the Derby Museum’s online store offers a select 150 items like decorations, collectibles and apparel, with an option to shop for products from local and Kentucky vendors. 

Amazon offers an assortment of Derby decorations, and select retail outlets such as Kroger also sell limited Derby merchandise, including Derby glasses, in the weeks before the Derby. This year Churchill Downs is releasing two Derby 150 glasses, one on sale now and one that will be sold exclusively at the track. 

Keeneland: Community celebration for entire family

Lexington’s Keeneland race course, 75 miles from Churchill Downs, stages the biggest Derby celebration that doesn’t feature live racing. General admission tickets are on sale now, and fans are encouraged to buy in advance, says Amy Gregory, Keeneland’s director of communications. Parking is free.

“Our Derby Day at Keeneland is a community celebration in the Bluegrass, with fun for the entire family,” Gregory says. “Guests will enjoy live music, food trucks, a hat contest, children’s activities (pony rides, games and crafts) and more throughout the grandstand, paddock and walking ring.” Seating options range from bring your own to the grandstand. 

The Derby Day telecast is shown on monitors and video boards throughout the facility, and mutuel windows are open for wagering.

There is no cost or reservation required to enjoy the day tailgating on Keeneland’s popular The Hill, which will show the Churchill Downs races on a jumbo TV with wagering available and live music.

In another milestone, Keeneland celebrates the 100th running of the Blue Grass Stakes on April 6 during its April 5–26 Spring Meet. 

Keeneland: 4201 Versailles Road, Lexington, (859) 254-3412

Celebrate at Kentucky’s other racetracks 

Every racetrack and historical horse racing gaming and simulcast facility in Kentucky will be showing and offering wagering on the Kentucky Derby Day racing program. All offer some sort of free general admission, but be aware that parts of the premises are restricted to 21 and over. 

Check locations’ websites for information about reserved seating and promotions.

These racetracks are offering free admission:

Ellis Park, 3300 U.S. Highway 41 N., Henderson, (812) 425-1456; Ellis’ Kentucky Derby party is for all ages, though the gaming floor is restricted.

Turfway Park, 7500 Turfway Road, Florence, (859) 371-0200; All ages are welcome to the outdoor party, with a tent in the beer garden area and music. Free admission for those under 13. Turfway rents its paddock saddling stalls for individual parties, providing the catering, table and chairs and a TV in every stall. 

The Red Mile,1200 Red Mile Road, Lexington, (859) 255-0752; Free admission on the second-floor simulcasting area (though those under 18 must be accompanied by an adult). Reserved seating and dining offered in the newly renovated Clubhouse.

The Mint Gaming Hall Cumberland, 244 Penny Lane, Williamsburg, (606) 400-2888; Open to all ages and families. While the gaming floor is restricted, there is a separate entrance for indoor and outdoor dining, plus myriad TVs and games such as corn hole.

Derby age-limited off-site betting

The following locations are restricted to adults 21 years old and up:

Derby City Gaming & Hotel, 4520 Poplar Level Road, Louisville, (502) 961-7600

Derby City Gaming Downtown140 S. 4th Street, Louisville, (502) 678-5600

Mint Gaming Hall at Kentucky Downs5629 Nashville Road, Franklin, (270) 586-7778

Mint Gaming Hall Bowling Green, 2475 Scottsville Road, Stes.101 & 102, Bowling Green, (270) 353-6400

Mint Gaming Hall Cumberland Run, 777 Winners Lane, Corbin, (606) 620-0250

Newport Racing & Gaming, 1723 Monmouth St., Newport, (859) 647-4700

Oak Grove Racing, Gaming & Hotel, 777 Winners Way, Oak Grove, 270-984-4200

Sandy’s Gaming & Racing, 10775 U.S. Highway 60, Ashland, (844) 726-3971

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