Kentucky Derby Themed Party Ideas - Outfits, Food, Decorations, Games

Giddy up for the 150th Kentucky Derby: Plan a Day of Food, Fashion, and Fun

The most prestigious and longest-held sporting event in America is held right here in Louisville, and it’s the Kentucky Derby. The Derby, also known as “The Run for the Roses,” is a celebration of the greatest horse race and spectacle in the world. The 2024 Kentucky Derby will be very special, as it marks the 150th running. The race is the first leg, and the most famous, of the American Triple Crown series. The other two legs include the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. It’s a rarity for a horse to win all three. American Pharoah and Justify did it recently, in 2015 and 2018 respectively, but there was a decades long gap prior. The last to pull it off before American Pharoah was Affirmed way back in 1978.

Will another horse contend for the Triple Crown this year? Time will tell. We’ll have to wait until the first Saturday in May, which is traditionally when the Kentucky Derby is held. The Kentucky Derby is a 1.25 mile race and the winner typically finishes in about two minutes. However, the festivities and parties last far longer and start earlier than the race itself.

As this Kentucky Derby will be even more special than years past, you’ll want to be the one in your circle who plans the ultimate Derby themed watch party. That means you’ll need to think about food and catering options, the attire for the day, and fun games, music, and decorations for guests. On the checklist will also include creating a brilliant Derby Day invitation card to send to guests.

Planning Food and Catering for the Derby

The most important step in planning food and catering for a Derby watch party is forecasting how many people will attend and what their dietary restrictions are, if any. You’ll want to determine a theme afterward. For the Kentucky Derby, popular choices include Southern cuisine, hors d'oeuvres, and dessert, especially bourbon or pecan pies.

man serving a slice of pecan pie during a kentucky derby watch party

Some food and drink ideas that might take the Triple Crown include:

  • Fried chicken
  • Buttermilk biscuits
  • Southern fried okra
  • Ham and cheese sliders
  • Pulled pork sliders
  • Bourbon meatballs
  • Buttermilk hush puppies
  • Southern potato salad
  • Kentucky beer cheese
  • Southern cheese grits
  • Pimento cheese
  • Mac and cheese
  • Prosciutto-wrapped asparagus
  • Deviled eggs
  • Pecan pie bars
  • Bourbon balls
  • Bourbon chocolate pecan pie
  • Classic mint julep
  • Bourbon derby punch
  • Kentucky lemonade

bartender making a mint julep derby watch party cocktail

As you can see, you’ll probably have to run as fast as the horses do to burn off this watch party!

You’ll want to make sure you set a defined budget for your Kentucky Derby bash. Consider inviting only close guests once you’ve appropriated a budget for the watch party and make it clear that you’d prefer keeping it intimate, if necessary. Make sure you have enough seating for the party arranged comfortably in front of a large screen television so your guests can enjoy the main event.

Setting up a buffet with different areas is the most efficient way for guests to take their own food while also mingling with other guests. Be sure to have enough plates, utensils, and napkins handy for your guests! Keep in mind that it’s better to buy slightly more than slightly less. After all, you can still use these items after the watch party if any are left.

These Louisville restaurants are known for their Kentucky Derby watch party catering service:

  • Feast BBQ
  • Against the Grain Catering
  • J. Gumbo's
  • Merle's Whiskey Kitchen
  • Wild Eggs

You can also sprinkle in a potluck element so that guests may also bring some of their own watch party dishes.

group of friends feasting at a kentucky derby watch party

Picking the Attire for the Day

Now that we have the food covered, it’s important to set a fashionable tone for your Derby watch party. The Kentucky Derby has a rich history of fashion and chic styles. It’s a very high class event and style matters! To make your watch party memorable, consider setting attire standards for guests. For women, sundresses, flowy dresses, rompers, cotton skirts, heels or flats, oversized hats, and gloves are perfect. The key here is bright colors and elegance. For gentlemen, seersucker suits, bow ties, khakis, light colored shoes, fitted hats, and sunglasses all make for perfect attire. Be sure to share the photos from your event on social media!

Preparing Derby Themed Games and Decorations

Since the Kentucky Derby race itself will end in a flash, you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of games, music, and decorations to entertain your guests with.

Some classic Derby watch party games:

  • Extravagant hat contest: Since the Derby’s festivities always involve outrageous hats, consider throwing a contest where all participants can vote on the most extravagant one. At the end, award the winner a fun prize or a small gift card!
  • Horseshoe toss: This timeless game works great for a Derby watch party. Set up a horseshoe pit and have your guests compete to see who can get closest to the stake.
  • Mint julep Derby bet: This is a refreshing game where you can have all your guests place a bet on who they think will win the race. Losers will have to chug down a mint julep! Let’s face it - the winner probably will too.
  • Derby bingo: Who doesn’t love a classic like bingo? Have your guests compete in a tournament with bingo cards with common words associated with the Derby:
    • Triple Crown
    • Bourbon
    • Run of the Roses
    • Preakness
    • Belmont Stakes
    • Longshot
    • Fastest Two Minutes in Sports
    • Secretariat
    • Affirmed
    • Leg
    • Jockey

You’ll also want some themed music playing in the background during your party. Some hits to consider:

    • "My Old Kentucky Home": This traditional song is a must-have for any Kentucky Derby playlist. You can choose from classic renditions like Johnny Cash's or more modern versions by artists like Knappy Roots.
    • "Run for the Roses": This iconic song by Dan Fogelberg captures the excitement and anticipation of the race. Consider playing this song minutes before the race is set to begin.
    • "Bourbon in Kentucky": Dierks Bentley's country anthem celebrates the spirit of the Derby and the state of Kentucky.

For decoration, keep in mind that the Kentucky Derby is known as “The Run for the Roses.” It could be a great idea to have fresh roses and silk flowers scattered all over the primary venue. Local party stores will likely carry horse racing decorations and horse figurines you can also use.

bouquet of red roses for a kentucky derby watch party

Since the Kentucky Derby is a uniquely Southern event, you can also add a touch of Southern charm to your decorations. Use gingham tablecloths, picnic baskets, mason jar centerpieces, and other rustic accents.

Getting the Invitation Cards Right

The one thing that could derail your Kentucky Derby watch party is botching the invitation cards. You don’t want your guests to have any surprises.

Some things you’ll want to make sure get addressed in the invitations:

  1. Venue Address: Clearly state the location of your watch party, including the full address and any specific instructions like parking options or building access.
  2. Time Slot: Be precise about the start and end times of your party, allowing guests enough time to plan their schedules.
  3. Dress Attire: Let your guests know the expected dress code, whether it's casual, festive, or full-on Derby attire with elaborate hats. You don’t want there to be regrets because a guest feels out of place due to attire.
  4. Food and Beverages Served Information: Indicate if food and drinks will be served and its type (catered, potluck, etc.). Mention any dietary restrictions or special options available.
  5. RSVP Information: Make it easy for guests to confirm their attendance by providing a contact number, email address, or online RSVP link.

By taking the time to get these details right on your invitation, you'll set the stage for a successful and well-organized Kentucky Derby watch party that your guests will truly enjoy, appreciate, and remember.

Now, remember to take plenty of photos during the day you and your guests will remember as the 150th running of the Kentucky Derby!

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