Kentucky Derby Traditions: Hats, Drinks, and More

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Kentucky Derby traditions

Kentucky Derby Traditions: Hats, Drinks, and More


The Kentucky Derby traces all the way back to 1875 and is one of the most prestigious sporting events in the United States.

When you’ve been running for that long, there are bound to be some great customs in place at the Churchill Downs Racetrack in Louisville. Here’s a look at some of the Kentucky Derby’s most famous traditions.

The Traditions of the Kentucky Derby

The Derby takes place on the first Saturday of May each year. Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr. started the Kentucky Derby back in 1875. He was the grandson of the famous explorer William Clark. Clark built the racetrack for Churchill Downs on the land of his uncles John and Henry Churchill. The Derby was a distance of 1.5 miles until 1896 when it switched to 1.25 miles.

The week leading up to the event, as well as Derby Day, has plenty of festivities, traditions, parties, and more to take part in. Here are some of the top traditions including ornate hates, the garland of roses, and more.

Lots of Ornate Hats

It’s all about the fancy hats at the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May. For years, large ornate hats have been worn by women in attendance and female spectators. According to tradition, the bigger the hat, the luckier!

The Garland of Roses

The red rose was named the official flower of the Kentucky Derby in 1904. The common nickname for the event is the Run for the Roses. This is because of the tradition of the Garland of Roses. More than 400 roses are sewn in green satin and placed over the winning horse. The blanket of roses is a tradition that runs back to 1932.

Mint Juleps

The signature drink of the Kentucky Derby is the Mint Julep. They have been enjoyed since the Kentucky Derby was first raced many years ago. The cocktail is made up of sugar, bourbon, mint, and some crushed ice. This was named the official drink of the Kentucky Derby in 1939.

Silver Julep Cups

After winning the race, the winner gets invited to the president of Churchill Down’s room and gets to enjoy Mint Juleps cups made from sterling silver. The tradition also includes the governor of Kentucky toasting the winner with the special glasses.

Horse Racing Betting

Betting is extremely popular in thoroughbred racing. Betting has been around since the first Derby. In today’s era, large crowds make their way to kiosks to place wagers. Hundreds of millions of dollars of bets go on the books each year as bettors try to predict who will be the winner of the Kentucky Derby.

The Song My Old Kentucky Home

Going back to 1921, the most exciting two minutes of sports can’t go without some music. The song “My Old Kentucky Home” by Stephen Foster plays almost every single year at the event. The University of Louisville marching band performs the song while the competing horses head to the starting gate.

Milliionaire’s Row

With spectacular hats and outfits at a prestigious event, come millionaires. Millionaire’s Row is where celebrities and big names watch the Kentucky Derby. The Derby introduced the dining area in 1966 to accommodate the wealthiest in attendance.

The Presentation of the Kentucky Derby Trophy

A long-running tradition includes giving the winner of the race a special gold trophy. This traces back to 1924 when the standard Kentucky Derby Trophy design was finalized by Matt Winn, who was the president of Churchill Downs. Trophy construction has taken place in North Attleboro, Massachusetts since 1975.

The 2023 Kentucky Derby Date and Time

The 2023 Kentucky Derby is on Saturday, May 6 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. You can watch the event on NBC at 6:57 p.m. ET or on the network’s streaming service Peacock.

Kentucky Derby Traditions FAQs

What are some of the traditions at the Kentucky Derby?

There are many traditions at the Kentucky Derby. The most popular include a red rose blanket draped over the winning horse, Mint Juleps, and large fancy hats.

When was the first Kentucky Derby?

The Kentucky Derby has taken place since 1875 when the first event raced. Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr. created the event.

What is Running for the Roses?

The winning horse has red roses draped over them after victory – hence the phrase “Running for the Roses.”

What is a Mint Julep?

A Mint Julep is a traditional drink at the Kentucky Derby. Sugar, bourbon, mint, and some crushed ice make up the cocktail. It’s been the official drink of the Kentucky Derby since 1939.

Author: Sam Russell

Sam hails from Grandville, Michigan. He has a rich sports background, including playing baseball at Central Michigan before covering high school sports and working with the Orlando Magic. He earned his degree from Central Michigan University and was a member of the 2010 MAC Championship baseball team. Sam grew his knowledge of sports betting while working with Betsperts in various areas such as writing, social media, betting research, and business development. He's a big fan of the NBA, NFL, and MLB, highly interested in data and statistics.