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WTF All Goes Down on Derby Week Anyway: A Guide for Those Too Afraid to Ask

Julias pondering pouring beer

I actually don’t know much about the Kentucky Derby besides, “Horses Go Fast.” Did you know that there’s like, a week of build up? Probably. Everyone seems to know except for me. Between Thunder week and Derby, May in Kentucky is like July to all of America. There’s so much more to it than the run for the roses.

So maybe you’re too afraid to ask a Louisvillian about Derby in fear of being kicked like a stallion at the start gate. That’s why I did the research for you, and bring forth: “WTF All Goes Down on Derby Week Anyway: A Guide for Those Too Afraid to Ask”.

How it all Began

To understand Derby Week, we first need to understand the history. The Kentucky Derby is “the oldest running American sporting event”, dating back to 1875. After traveling to Europe and witnessing the thoroughbred racing scene there, Meriwether Lewis Clark acquired land from his uncle, Henry Churchill, and thus Churchill Downs was born. The first Kentucky Derby had only 10,000 attendees, but continued on to be the icon it is today.

What This Means Now

The Kentucky Derby hasn’t missed a year since its 1875 debut. Today, it generates about $400 million in revenue each year, and although the KY Derby has never left Louisville, it’s celebrated globally—my family in Wisconsin even has a small tradition!

The Derby means as much to local businesses as it does to Louisvillians. This year, breweries will participate in 502’s day on the Tuesday before Derby (get it?). We will feature our BLK Pilsner for $5.02. For more fun, we’re partnering with Lou Lou on Friday for a cajun-style brunch that’s free to attend.

How do Locals Feel About Derby?

I was surprised to encounter a pretty significant anti-derby sentiment in Louisville. Derby was celebrated in both Milwaukee and Lexington when I lived there, so why do so many Louisvillians turn their noses up at Derby?

“Traffic.” Apparently, good luck driving around Louisville next weekend. Especially for those who live on the southend, near Churchill Downs—Steve, our favorite regular, told me a typically 15-minute drive home took 8 hours last year.

But if driving is the one thing that’s got you jaded about America’s oldest and coolest sport, there are options;

Louvelo! If you haven’t seen these green citibikes around town yet, it’s time to start looking. It’s Louisville’s bikeshare program, with 300+ bikes around the city. Membership is established through an app. Not only can you zip to the derby faster than those driving, but your calf muscles will be popping after the weekend—a win-win! AND, to sweeten the deal, Louvelo bikes are free through May.

“It’s just busy.” I get it. Everything is just…busier. Longer wait times for bars and restaurants, coffee in the morning, parking…Louisville blooms like the roses they’re running for. But maybe we can make the most of this? Take time to slow down this Derby Season. Enjoy the new faces you’ll meet as people travel in from all over the world. Share what you love about this city that, if anything, feels a bit sleepy sometimes!

Of course, many welcome the hubbub. There are countless traditions to celebrate, from flaunting pastels at the oaks to throwing derby parties.

Derby Buzzwords You Should Know

We learned a bit about the history of Derby and how it looks in our city now. Admittedly, I feel pretty dumb when people throw Derby lingo around that I know nothing about. But go easy on me, I’m not from these parts! 

So if you hear someone throw some KY Derby buzzwords around and you’re too embarrassed to ask what it means, here you are: 

THURBY – The Thursday before Kentucky Derby. May 4th. Many bars hold special events and deals. We will have an Against the Gala Silent Disco at our Downtown Public House.

SHERBY – Music festival on the eve of Derby, on the corner of Sherwood and Bardstown Road. Sponsored by Mile Wide. 

MINT JULEP – The official cocktail of Derby, consisting of bourbon, mint, and a sweet syrup. Most businesses in town offer juleps during derby week, and of course they can be found at the track. Stop by the Public House to try our mint julep, crafted with Monk’s Road Wheated Bourbon. 

502s DAY – A new tradition, where breweries feature beers for $5.02. Celebrate your community!

OAKS DAY – Derby Eve Eve, or the Friday before. This is when the fillies run!

WHAT’S A FILLY? – A young, female horse that runs on Oaks Day.

FASTENATOR – (I don’t even know her!) Not quite a hat, but a frilly, flashy headband of sorts. DO NOT CALL IT A HAT!!!

Locals and tourists alike, go have fun this derby. Get a Louvelo and zip around town like a filly at the start gate! Enjoy one of America’s oldest traditions right here in our city.