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Kentucky Derby Party Ideas

Whether you're new to the Kentucky Derby or a lifelong racing fan, find creative Derby party ideas to help you celebrate the "Run for the Roses."

Kentucky Derby Party Ideas

The first Saturday of May each year, thousands of people flock to Louisville, Kentucky, or flip on their TV sets to watch Thoroughbred horses race in "The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports." Two minutes doesn't begin to cover the extent of the celebration, however, and although the horses are the stars of the show, there is much more to the Kentucky Derby than a race.

The two-week long Kentucky Derby Festival is packed with flavors, fashion, and fun -- all of which you can create right at home. From festive themes and games to yummy, Derby-inspired recipes, gallop through our three Kentucky Derby party ideas.

Millionaire's Row Theme

Mint Julep Recipe

Celebrate the Kentucky Derby in extravagant style with a "Millionaire's Row" theme, complete with a red carpet and champagne. A term referring to the expensive box seats at the derby, "Millionaire's Row" is where the rich and famous sit. Traditionally, women appear in fine dresses and the must-have accessory of the Derby -- an elaborate hat.

How to Celebrate the Kentucky Derby:

  • Party Decorations: Roll out a red carpet and use a silk tablecloth to represent the jockey's racing jerseys -- the more colorful, the better. Place a trophy cup on the table as a centerpiece. Fill the cup with rose petals, or scatter them around the center of the table, in honor of the roses draped over the winning horse.
  • Party Outfits & Games: Dress in formal attire, and ask your guests to do the same. Exchange rose boutonnieres and corsages, and have a "Best Hat," "Most Creative Hat," or "Best Dressed" contest.
  • Party Recipes: For beverages, serve mint juleps, the official cocktail of the race. Although normally made with bourbon, the mint julep at the Kentucky Derby is actually made with Early Times, a brand of Kentucky whiskey. Get our Mint Julep recipe. Offer an alternate drink, such as a sparkling cranberry rose cocktail. For dessert, serve decadent rose petal ice cream. Or bake a traditional Kentucky Derby Chocolate Walnut Pie. To transform our basic chocolate walnut pie into a Kentucky Derby pie, add 2 tablespoons of Kentucky bourbon during the mixing process.


Infield Kentucky Derby Theme

For a less formal approach, opt for an infield-themed party. Inspired by the celebration on the infield at the Kentucky Derby, where the crowd can't see the races, an infield party is more laid back. Because of the less-than-ideal view, these seats are less expensive and the atmosphere is wilder. Infield themes can range from an outdoor picnic or barbecue to an indoor gathering.

  • Party Decorations: Make plastic trophy-cup place markers. Write a guest's name on each cup and fill the cups with candy or use them to serve cocktails.
  • Party Outfits & Games: Host a "Make Your Own Hat" contest. Set rules for the contest if you'd like, such as only using duct tape, trash bags, and aluminum foil. Provide the materials at the party, or have guests arrive already wearing their creations. Wager on the horses with your guests, and learn and sing the official Derby song, "My Old Kentucky Home." Organize a game of horseshoes to play in the backyard, or have a potato sack race.
  • Party Recipes: Grill outside, or prepare some hearty slow cooker recipes. Ask guests to bring appetizers. Choose from our appetizer recipes. Serve beer or mint julep, the official Derby drink. Get our Mint Julep recipe. Make Hot Chocolate-Stout Float with Rose Petals. Get our hot chocolate recipe.

Long-Shot Kentucky Derby Theme

Root for the underdog -- or should we say, underhorse? -- with a Long Shot-Themed Party.  A long-shot horse typically is one that was inexpensive and doesn't have good pedigree, but it still has a chance to win. This party theme is family-friendly, as it falls between the two extremes of an elegant Millionare's Row party and a spirited Infield party.

  • Party Decorations: Decorate to match your favorite Derby horse's racing silks. Hang silk banners or use a silk tablecloth.
  • Party Outfits & Games: Make your own silk jockey jersey or host a "best racing silks" contest. Use a less expensive alternative to silk, such as nylon or polyester. For an even easier option, buy cotton T-shirts to decorate with fabric markers and paint at the party. Vote on the best or most creative jersey, and award the winner with a plastic trophy. Wager on the long-shot horses with your guests, and create a "Pin the Tail on the Champion" game for the youngsters. Draw the long-shot horses on construction paper, cut out the silhouettes, and have blindfolded kids try to pin a tail onto their favorite. For more Kentucky Derby fun, have a stick horse or a potato sack race, or play a game of horseshoes.
  • Party Recipes: Bake Easy Rose Bouquet Cupcakes.
    Get our cupcake recipe. Bake cookies in the shape of a hat, a horseshoe, or a rose. Use cookie cutters, and let the guests or the kids frost and decorate their own. Serve mint juleps, the official Derby drink. Make them without alcohol for the kids by substituting lemon juice and ginger ale for the whiskey. Get our Mint Julep recipe.

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