How to Throw a Kentucky Derby Party (That’s Not Fancy)

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So, you can’t make it to Churchill Downs for the Derby this year, but you’d still like to turn the Run For The Roses into an event of your own making. Invite all of your rowdy friends over, tell them to dress the part and bring a covered dish to share. It’s time to get the Derby dirty with this primer for those of us who aren’t quite so highbrow.


Giant millinery efforts are a Kentucky Derby tradition that date back to the inception of the race in 1875. According to the Derby website, hats are meant to bring good luck, but we all know that’s an uppity made up way of saying the hats are there to show off and be seen. The bigger, the better, and you’d best make sure yours looks cute with your dress. Some have been known to create themed hat décor with props, but we all know that sounds tacky.


What’s a Southern sports gathering without a friendly wager? It’s easy to bet online via the Derby site or your daddy’s friend, Lucky Dickie; however, isn’t it more fun to take the money directly from the hot little hands of your best friend? Print out the names of each ridiculously-named horse and have your guests pull them out randomly after everyone puts a few dollars into a kitty. Whoever holds the winning horse’s name wins the money. Unless, of course, everyone drinks too many mint juleps and decides to fight about it. At that point, it is every hat-wearing fool for her own self.

Mint Juleps

Y’all, these things have a pretty name, but lawsy, they are nasty. It may be un-Southern to say, but bourbon tastes like feet. If you are a sucker for tradition or think you’re fancy for drinking them, then go ahead and make some and watch your friends be mad with you about it.


Traditional Derby food includes Hot Browns, which is some kind of turkey and ham sandwich covered with cheese sauce and garnished with tomatoes. An easier version would be Velveeta and Rotel dip with some tortilla chips. You can also gussy it up with some Benedictine Spread, of which the recipe suggests you add green food coloring to it. You can do that, but this is a classy affair, not some trashy St. Patrick’s Day party. 

Bring a Jell-O mold salad like you know you were going to do anyway. What’s really exciting is when Derby Day falls on Cinco de Mayo, and margarita juleps are served and Rotel/Hot Brown dip is extra appropriate. Dressing up your sombrero with flowers is also entertaining, but will likely lead to confusion as to what you are celebrating.

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