Whether you’re a horse person or not, the Kentucky Derby, on May 4, is a great excuse for a party. You can take yourself back in time with an event that’s run every year since 1875. The Derby is filled with fun traditions and excitement like the following!

Set the Scene

The Derby brings out the glamorous and posh of the South. Attendees wear their finest clothing and particularly impressively enormous hats. Invite your guests to dress in their fanciest outfits. For a bit of extra whimsy, you can provide hats, feathers, tulle, ribbon, and hot glue, allowing guests to create their own headwear. If you feel particularly motivated, offer prizes for the biggest, prettiest, or funniest creation. It will add an element of humor and loosen everyone up to start the party off right.

Prepare the Food and Drink

One drink above all says Kentucky Derby: the Mint Julep. Obviously, you won’t be serving a cocktail to the younger in your crew. There is a delicious and refreshing option using a mint and sugar sauce with lemonade that you can find online. As a bonus, it should taste good with a little extra adult beverage in it!

For food, you have two options. One is to opt for a high tea type spread with things like cucumber sandwiches, scones, and small pastries. This will match the fancy clothes and spectacular hats.

The other option is to lean into the southern comfort foods and make Burgoo Stew, a stew that is traditionally put together from the entire neighborhood bringing something to contribute. Recipes differ but it’s more or less a mix of whatever you have available, including several kinds of meat.

Prepare for the Race

Reenact the events leading up to the Kentucky Derby with a fun little race!

Twenty horses make the cut to enter the derby by earning points during the racing season. Turn the children into jockeys by assigning them each a horse that will be racing. You can give them a brightly colored patterned shirt to wear and perhaps a pool noodle horse to “ride” around the room.

Before the race, the twenty horses walk around the track in what’s called the “Call to Post” while they play “My Old Kentucky Home”. When they’ve finished their parade, the racers line up at the start line.  Someone with a certain amount of celebrity will announce, “Riders Up”.

Ask kids to walk around the adults while you play the song off of YouTube. For the announcement, find someone who will enjoy making a show out of the the two words. Now let them run!

The horses run ten furlongs, or a mile and a quarter, around the track. If you want to add some more interest to the event, make your race track an even length and time them. You can multiply the time to see how long it would have taken to run the actual Kentucky Derby. For comparison, Justify won last year with a time of 2:04.2 minutes!

Winners of the Kentucky Derby receive a garland of roses, however, in general, kids’ parties run more smoothly if you avoid outright competition. You might want to sidestep the direct competition aspect by giving every child a rose or making a rose garland that everyone can pose with after the race.

Watching The Derby

You can find broadcasts of the whole days events all over the internet. Coverage of the undercard races and social events starts early at 12 EDT.  If it’s not already on in the background, at about 6 pm EDT, turn the race on to watch each of the events you’ve just acted out. Hopefully, everyone will be engaged in what is going on after the reenactment.

You can spice this part of the party up with a variety of “betting” techniques. Kids could do anything from just choosing a horse to cheer for, to trying to guess the LAST horse, or using candy to wager on who they think will win or place. All of this depends on who is at your party. Anything that gets the kids, and adults, rooting for a particular horse is going to add fun and excitement to the event.

However you choose to use the excitement and traditions of a Kentucky Derby party, it’s sure to be a fun time doing something a bit out of the ordinary!