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Guide to Attending the Kentucky Derby with General Admission Infield Tickets

Guide to Attending the Kentucky Derby with General Admission Infield Tickets


By avatar  Stacy
Posted On 05/15/2019 16:48:32
Trip Date 05/04/2019  

Destinations | Camping | Kentucky | Louisville | Derby Day | Derby General Admission | Infield Derby Tickets | Least Expensive Derby Tickets | Derby Money Saving Tips



Attending the Kentucky Derby was by no means a bucket list item for us. When we realized that we'd be in Louisville on Derby Day during our nearly 8 week RV camping trip, we decided that it was in the cards. We aren't regulars at horse races, and quite honestly don't even tune in to watch the big race on live TV every year, so we decided to purchase the least expensive Derby tickets available for race day.

If you'll be in Louisville on the first Saturday in May, you may wonder if you should go to Derby - especially if your budget only allows for Derby general admission tickets. This post will answer questions that you may have including where are the infield Derby tickets and what's it like in the infield at Churchill Downs. We'll also include some Derby money saving tips for attending this rather unique event which is truly a destination in itself.



A Brief History of Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby

Although the location has remained the same since the first race, today's Churchill Downs has undergone some changes since the original race. The iconic twin spires were not constructed until 1895, the year after grandstand seating became available. Infield seating was first offered in 1938 at a cost of $0.50 per person after the tunnel was built which allowed spectators to cross from the main seating area under the track to the infield.


Churchill Downs' Famous Twin Spires

Churchill Downs' Famous Twin Spires

Meriwether Lewis Clark, the grandson of William Clark, is credited with starting the Kentucky Derby. (William Clark was the "Clark" in the explorer pair known as Lewis and Clark.) First run in 1874, the 2019 Derby marked the 145th running of the famous thoroughbred horse race in Louisville, Kentucky. Most likely due to the ongoing threat of rain, the attendance dropped from the prior year to just over 150,700. For even more, check out Kentucky Derby History and Traditions.

Did you know that if you want to blend in (and not stand out as a first time Derby goer), you should refer to the day as "Derby", not "the Derby"? For example, "Are you going to Derby this year?" instead of "Are you going to the Derby this year". The phrase "the Kentucky Derby" refers to the one specific horse race - not the entire day of Derby events!



Purchasing Tickets for Derby

Tickets for Kentucky Derby go on sale in the fall of the year before the event and can easily be purchased online. Kentucky Derby tickets are by no means cheap! The least expensive tickets available for entrance into Churchill Downs on Derby Day are General Admission.


Mobile Ticket for 2019 Kentucky Derby

Mobile Ticket for 2019 Kentucky Derby

While General Admission tickets are also available for purchase at the gate on the day of Derby, you will pay a premium for waiting. (In 2019, the price of tickets started at $60.00 plus fees and increased to $70.00 on January 1st. Following a price increase to $75.00 at just over two weeks before Derby, day of event tickets were available for $80.00.)



Planning Your Derby Day Wardrobe

While you will certainly read and hear that Derby is all about wearing your best spring apparel, the reality for those with General Admission tickets is that almost anything goes! Without going on an all out search, you'll easily find both women and men in the infield with fashions ranging from being "dressed to the nines" to "comfortable and casual".

Women

In the infield, we spotted ladies wearing shorts, jeans, pant suits, sundresses plus some donning more formal wear. While many wore spring florals or pastel colors, there were also plenty wearing black and other dark colored outfits. Shoes ranged from stiletto type heels to flip-flops and everything in between. Some brought along a change of shoes so that they could be more comfortable when walking about - but were still prepared with "proper" shoes for the all important photo opportunities!

The one constant with most (but not all) women was the presence of some sort of hat or fascinator sitting atop their head. Again, the range was quite impressive. Some appeared to be quite expensive and others were clearly homemade. And, if you just can't fathom wearing a hat, you'll see others that had the same thought!


So Many Different Hats at Derby

So Many Different Hats at Derby

Men

Like the women, you could easily find men roaming the infield wearing shorts and jeans. You could also find those who spiced up their attire by wearing pastel or brightly colored slacks with color complementing shirts, jackets in a wide variety of colors and either a tie, bow tie or neither. There were even some men with an outfit perfectly coordinated with their spouse or significant other!

As for covering their upper and lower extremities, some were wearing athletic shoes while others wore loafers - some with socks and others without. While not quite as popular as with the ladies, a good percentage of men also wore hats - fedoras, homemade and more.



Tips for Planning your Wardrobe

Whether you plan to dress like you are attending a spring fashion show or prefer to stay more casual, you won't be alone. Here's a few things to think about:
  • Derby Day is just that - an all day long event. Depending on how long you plan to stay, with general admission tickets you will likely do a significant amount of walking. With that in mind, make sure that your chosen shoes will be comfortable for as many as 12 or more hours. Of course, there's also the option of bringing a second pair of shoes for those times when you want (or need) to walk a longer distance.
  • If you are planning your wardrobe weeks or months in advance, remember that spring weather can be unpredictable. Being honest, the threat of rain never entered my mind until seeing a weather report the week before. As Derby Day got closer, it became evident that the rain probability was extremely high. We had rainwear and ponchos, but no shoes suitable for drenching rainstorms. Like many others, we had to do some last minute shopping for rain boots. On a positive note, as ridiculous as my boots looked with my dress, I was truly glad to have them. They made for easier walking in the mud, on the rain-soaked tall grass and in the nasty weather ... and I didn't have to carry a second pair of shoes.


    All Dressed Up with Rain Boots for the 2019 Kentucky Derby

    All Dressed Up with Rain Boots for the 2019 Kentucky Derby

  • You may think that it would be fun to wear a hat even though it's not your typical style. (It is!) Since hats ranged from homemade to expensive, don't feel like you have to go all out. Do know, however, that finding one that you are happy with may not be as easy as you think. I found a good selection of very reasonably priced hats at walmart.com. Since in store pick-up was not available and I didn't want to risk having one shipped to an RV park somewhere along our journey, that option was out. After making a number of stops along our road trip, someone gave me the awesome suggestion to check out Burlington in Lexington. Success!



Packing for Derby Day

While there is no seating in the infield, General Admission ticket holders can bring their own. Additionally, unlike many other large venue sporting events, you can actually save some money by bringing your own snacks, meals and non-alcoholic beverages as long as you follow a few basic rules:
  • Soft drinks and water in unopened plastic containers are permitted, however no cans, glass containers or thermoses are allowed;
  • All food must be packed in clear plastic bags (no coolers or backpacks) not larger than 18" on any one side. (We had no problem loading a few disposable plastic shopping bags with one liter plastic drinks plus sandwiches, chips, trail mix and cookies each packaged in zipper lock bags.)

Here's a few other suggestions, however be sure to check out the Prohibited and Allowed Items for additional important security guidelines:

  • Each person is limited to bringing two bags through security;
  • Purses can be no larger than 12" on any side;
  • A limited number of vendors did accept electronic payments during 2019, however cash is king (there are some ATM machines onsite);
  • No umbrellas or tents are permitted, however tarps and blankets may be brought inside;
  • Binoculars are permitted and, depending on the weather, consider bringing sun glasses, sun protection and/or ponchos; and
  • All items carried through security are subject to search.



Parking for Derby Day

We chose not to purchase parking in the lots at either Churchill Downs or the Kentucky Exposition Center which must be paid for and reserved in advance. As we approached Churchill Downs, we noticed parking offered in nearby neighborhoods (some requiring a charitable donation of $50.00 per car). The pick-up and drop-off location for those arriving or departing via Uber, Lyft and Taxi were a short walk from the stadium and were well marked.

Just as we did when we visited the Kentucky Derby Museum, we parked in the lot at Cardinal Stadium. For Derby Day, the fee for parking was $20.00 per car and $100.00 per RV. We arrived to the stadium just before 10:00 AM. Entering the lot, paying for parking and finding a space were all quick and easy. Getting from the lot to the infield at Churchill Downs required a 20 minute (about 2,000 step) walk. To get more up-to-date information, refer to Derby Week Parking Information.


Arriving at Churchill Downs

Arriving at Churchill Downs

Security and Ticket Scanning at Churchill Downs

Although those with General Admission tickets may enter at any gate, chairs, blankets and tarps may only be brought into the stadium through the Infield entrance gates. Just like attendees at most events of the sort, all who attend Derby are required to pass through security. Each person entering Churchill Downs must walk through a metal detector and may be subject to additional wand screening by security personnel.

All metal items (which must be removed from pockets) along with all purses and bags (including those with chairs) are carefully inspected. With so many people carrying chairs, multiple bags filled with food, etc. prepare yourself as the security screening for the infield gates does take additional time. Once guests are cleared for entrance by the security staff, tickets are scanned and you can now officially enter the famous venue.



Stake a Claim on your Derby Watching Space

Once you are inside, your walking does not stop as you now must join the crowd of people making their way through the tunnel to the infield. If you picture the long oval race track on which the horses and jockeys compete, the infield consists of the 26 acre area in the center. Yes, you are right - the horses will be racing around this huge open area filled with tens of thousands of onlookers.

You may be concerned that you'll only have a view of the horses for a split second during the race as they gallop past the area where you are sitting. Right again! But, that is really the case for everyone no matter where they sit in Churchill Downs. While those with the more expensive grandstand seating do have a distant view of the horses on the entire track, they are likely still watching the huge 4K video screen for a good part of each race.

We lucked out and first set up our two longhorn chairs so that we had a good view of the big screen.


View of the Giant Video Screen at Churchill Downs

View of the Giant Video Screen at Churchill Downs

After scoping out more of the infield, we decided to move closer to the track. We chose a location near one end of the race track hoping to maximize our view. Although we were looking through double chain-link fences, we could see the horses as they rounded the corner.


Rounding the Corner at Churchill Downs

Rounding the Corner at Churchill Downs

Finding the perfect spot for the day is different for each person attending Derby. For those with infield tickets, there are so many choices on where to stake your claim for the day. You'll want to start by determining your priorities beginning with whether you prefer your seats to be on the grass or asphalt. Then ask yourself questions such as:

  • Are you wanting to catch a glimpse of the jockeys or horses as they pass by? Remember, based on the size of the infield, there are a limited number of places where you'll actually be able to see the race. If that's your goal, however, you'll want to arrive as early as possible (gates open at 8:00 AM) and head to an area as close to the inner fence as you can find.
  • Do you prefer a great view of the giant video screen filled with the most up to date information throughout the day? In addition to a more close-up view of the actual races, you'll be able to see things such as the upcoming events list, betting odds, which horses have scratched (i.e. will no longer be racing), etc.
  • Does the weather forecast for Derby Day include heavy rain? If you want to avoid melting in the rain, you may to try to find one of the spots under a tree, near a canopy covered area or close to the tunnel. Again, the earlier the better!
  • Is placing an in person bet on the races a priority for you? If so, you may want to sit near one of the wagering stations.
  • Are you with a group of people whose main goal is just to drink and party? If so, you may want to be closer to the concession area so that you don't have a long walk each time you want to purchase a drink.

You may have other goals like being close to a restroom, far from those smoking cigars or cigarettes or near the paddock to see the jockeys mount their horses. Whatever your goals are, the key to success is just like with any event of this magnitude - the earlier you arrive, the more choices you'll have.



Derby Day Races, Events and Things to Do

You've likely heard the phrase "the most exciting two minutes in sports" used to describe the Kentucky Derby. The good news about Derby Day is that there is so much more to do than just watching that one race - even if you choose to purchase the cheap seats! Here's a sampling of what you can do to enjoy your time at Churchill Downs:



Enjoy the Derby Day Atmosphere with Friends

Heading to someone's home for a Derby party can be fun, but it's not like the real deal! Horse racing fan or not, joining the tens of thousands of people in the infield during Derby is like joining one of the biggest parties that you'll probably ever attend. Soak in the atmosphere as it is like no other. Believe it or not, even when the rain is pouring down, the infield will be crowded with people enjoying themselves!


Derby Day in the Rain

Derby Day in the Rain

Gather a group together to make your day even more fun! The more the merrier - you're already going to be in an area filled with people. Why not go with people you know you'll enjoy spending the day with?



Witness the Garland of Roses Arrival

If you're in Louisville during the week of Derby, you'll likely tune in to the local news to listen to the weather forecast. You'll also probably hear about the making of the Garland of Roses used to crown the winner of the Kentucky Derby. In addition to four florists working for 10-12 hours on the night before the derby, making the garland requires another 80 or so hours of pre-work.

If you arrive at Churchill Downs earlier than we did, you can see the Garland of Roses as it is brought into the stadium. Due to the forecast, we chose to arrive a little later than we originally planned. If we have another opportunity to attend Derby, this will be a must for us as we heard it is a sight that we wouldn't want to miss. (During 2019, the arrival was planned for 9:45 AM at the Clubhouse Gate.)



Watch the Horse Racing

Including the most talked about horse race of the year, on Derby Day 2019 ticket holders had the opportunity to see 14 horse races. Post time for the first race of the day was at 10:30 AM. Races began as soon as 30 minutes after the previous race with as long as almost 1 1/2 hours between races. Post time for the final race was at 8:20 PM.


Watching the Races on the Big Screen at Churchill Downs

Watching the Races on the Big Screen at Churchill Downs

Explore the Infield

Take some time to wander around the infield. If this is your first time at Derby, you'll surely want some pictures to remember the day. You'll find a variety of Photo Op Stops in the infield. If you have any interest whatsoever in the photo, do it right away. It's not that it won't be available later in the day, but the line will likely be much longer as the day progresses. (I had no idea!)


Old Forester's "Talk Derby to Me" Photo Op Stop

Old Forester's "Talk Derby to Me" Photo Op Stop

Ram Trucks Photo Op Stop at Kentucky Derby

Ram Trucks Photo Op Stop at Kentucky Derby

If you are interested in marketing give-aways, be on the lookout as you roam around. Supplies are limited, so grab them while you can as you might not have an opportunity when it's more convenient. (We saw foam hats, koozies and pins without putting any effort into searching for freebies.)

If you'll be in the market for food or drinks at some point during the day, keep your eyes open for menu items that appeal to you. Make a mental note of where you saw them so you can easily return to your vendor of choice. (It's also a good idea to figure out whether you need cash or if they accept mobile or credit card payments - most do not!)

Finally, scope out the all important restroom locations so that you know where to head when you need a facility! And, remember, it's a great idea to begin your walk to the restroom before you actually need it. The lines tend to be long. (I did find a group of port-a-potties away from the most congested areas that never had a line and were actually fairly clean.)



Sip a Mint Julep

A long standing traditional beverage at Derby is the Mint Julep. The $15.00 price included the bourbon based mixed drink and the souvenir cup. Mint Juleps were available from vendors walking and selling as well as from tent based vendors both in the infield and the plaza. There may be more than one type of souvenir cup, so make sure that you order from a vendor offering your favorite. (We found glass cups in the plaza and 3-D plastic cups available in the infield.)


Enjoying Mint Juleps on Derby Day

Enjoying Mint Juleps on Derby Day

Sipping a Mint Julep

Sipping a Mint Julep

Visit the Paddock

Make sure to visit the Paddock to see the horses, trainers and jockeys preparing for at least one of the races. Escort ponies enter the area followed by each competing horse who is individually led into the paddock. After being saddled up for their race, the horses parade around the ring for all to see.


Escort Ponies in the Paddock

Escort Ponies in the Paddock

Horses Led into Churchill Downs Paddock

Horses Led into Churchill Downs Paddock

Horse Parade in Paddock Ring

Horse Parade in Paddock Ring

The jockeys then enter and mount their horses. Before heading to the track, the jockeys parade around the ring on their horses in the paddock area for a final warm up.


Jockeys Entering Paddock

Jockeys Entering Paddock

Final Preparation in Paddock

Final Preparation in Paddock

Competing Horses and Jockeys Parading around Paddock Ring

Competing Horses and Jockeys Parading around Paddock Ring

You'll also see (but probably not hear) some interviews taking place in the area with filming done by television camera crews.



Do some People Watching

If you enjoy people watching, there aren't too many better opportunities than during Derby Day. While sitting in your favorite spot on the infield or wandering throughout the maze of people and tents, you'll be amazed at what you can see. From critiquing the outfits of fellow derby goers to getting ideas for your hat for upcoming years, it's fun to see the wide variety of style at Derby.

You'll be able to watch the crowd cheer on their favorite horses and hoop and holler when they think they may have won some money. You'll surely spy some partygoers who might have sipped one too many mint juleps. You may also get ideas for some selfies or other photos that you want to take before the end of the day.


Greetings from Louisville

Greetings from Louisville

Don't forget to take a look at the Clubhouse and Grandstand seating in between races. It's interesting to see that the seats are near empty shortly after the end of a race and they again fill up before the next one.


Kentucky Derby Clubhouse and Grandstand Seating

Kentucky Derby Clubhouse and Grandstand Seating

Bet and (Hopefully) Collect

Placing a bet on at least one of the races really adds some fun to the day! You can wager as little as $2.00, and who knows, you could win big. (Those who bet the minimum on Country House, the official winner of the 2019 Kentucky Derby, walked away with over $130.00.)

Windows are open for bets starting 30 minutes before the first race. It goes without saying that a wager must be placed before the start of the race that you want to bet on, so keep track of each race's wager closing time.

As you walk around the infield early in the day, you may notice that the lines to place wagers are rather short. That will definitely change as it gets later in the day. Probably the busiest time is during the gap between the Kentucky Derby and the race immediately before it. So, the earlier in the day the better for wagering in order to save some time standing in line.

Make sure that you are prepared with both cash (no credit accepted) and the information necessary to place your bet before you approach a teller. Printed programs and tip sheets with wagering information are available for purchase at Derby and ranged in price from $3.00 - $5.00 during 2019. You can also take a look at Betting at the Kentucky Derby for more information.


Official Program of the 145th Kentucky Derby

Official Program of the 145th Kentucky Derby

Finally, make sure to review your betting ticket before leaving the window to make sure that it is accurate. (Our teller was either new or had no clue as she had to redo one of our bets at least four times!)

There are also some self-service betting machines as well as mobile apps available. Use of mobile apps is dependent on the laws in your home state. Depending on the app, you may not be able to place a bet if you live in certain states. (We live in Texas and did not have access to the one app that we tried.)



Should you place a winning bet, you'll probably want to cash in before you leave Churchill Downs unless you live locally. (There are other options for collecting including mailing in your ticket or returning to the venue at a later date.) In order to collect your winnings, wait until the standings are official. Thinking that we had two winning tickets, we headed to the tellers to collect. After nearly 25 minutes of waiting, we finally learned that the horse that we bet on had been disqualified in one of the most controversial Kentucky Derby's ever!


Check your Betting Tickets Carefully!

Check your Betting Tickets Carefully!

Sing Along with the Crowd

It's a great idea to be somewhere in Churchill Downs where you can hear the announcements and see the big screen during the the nearly 1 1/2 hour pause before the Kentucky Derby. It is during this time that you'll be able to either see or participate in more Derby Day traditions. Both "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "My Old Kentucky Home" are also sung during this break from racing.



Don't Miss the Kentucky Derby

If you only plan to watch one of the races, the Kentucky Derby is the one to watch. Rain or shine, the crowd definitely gets the most excited about this one.


And They're Off - 2019 Kentucky Derby

And They're Off - 2019 Kentucky Derby

Rounding the Corner at the 2019 Kentucky Derby

Rounding the Corner at the 2019 Kentucky Derby

And the Winner Is ...

And the Winner Is ...

Returning Home after Derby Day

Other than the near constant rain during much of the afternoon, the worst part of our day was leaving. Although there are still additional races after the Kentucky Derby, a high percentage of people begin their bolt from the stadium immediately after the most publicized race. With that in mind, the number of people attempting to funnel into the tunnels from the infield, through the exit gates and down the street may seem like more people than you saw all day. The good news is that everyone has the same goal in mind, so the crowd moves fairly fast.

The worst of it, for us at least, was exiting the parking lot at Cardinal Stadium. I wish I was exaggerating when I say it took nearly 2 hours (1 3/4 to be exact) to get from our parking space on to the road. With the combination of timid drivers allowing everyone to cut them off and people intentionally standing in the lot to block other cars to advance their own, exiting was a nightmare! No one was in the lot directing traffic until minutes before we exited. Once out of the lot, the roads were packed, but at least we were moving.



Louisville, Kentucky

A visit to the Kentucky Derby Museum is a great way to complement your attendance at Derby Day. Check back soon for our post titled 8 Fun Things to Do in Louisville, Kentucky to read about (and see a few photos from) the museum plus 7 other attractions to consider for your time in Derby City.

Derby Memories

Between pre-derby shopping, the downpours throughout the day and the most controversial race in the history of the event, we won't soon forget our day at Derby. What are your favorite memories from previous Derby Days that you have attended? We'd also love to hear any suggestions that you have for those hoping to attend a future Derby!




Total Fitbit steps: 14,091
Weather:59F Cloudy


Guide to Attending the Kentucky Derby with General Admission Infield Tickets






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Created On 05/14/2019 19:34:20  
Updated On 05/15/2019 12:48:32
Scheduled On 05/15/2019 12:48:32
Posted On 05/15/2019 16:48:32
Last Editor Stacy
Location  Churchill Downs, Louisville, KY, United States
LinkId  KentuckyDerbyInfieldGuide
StoryId  1557876860858





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