A Kentucky Derby Guide To Betting, Dressing Up & Hosting A Viewing Party

Written By Bart Shirley on April 29, 2019 - Last Updated on September 3, 2020

The 146th edition of the Kentucky Derby will be unlike any that came before it. Why? Because it will be held during a global pandemic. With that being said, the world’s most famous horse race is set for Saturday, September 5, 2020.

You may be an annual Kentucky Derby bettor or just someone who likes Mint Juleps. But if you’re planning on watching “The Run for the Roses,” or throwing a party, PlayUSA has some ideas to help make it memorable, safe, and perhaps, even profitable during COVID-19.

The Kentucky Derby has run consecutively each year since 1875 at the world-famous Churchill Downs racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky. Like the Masters golf tournament, it is an event heavily steeped in the traditions of a largely bygone era.

Derby parties–thrown at homes (à la the Oscars), restaurants and bars–are a common staple of the annual event. Signature Derby dress, food, and beverages are preordained through decades of repetition and reverence.

The 2020 Kentucky Derby field

The Kentucky Derby is, above all things, a horse race. But as mentioned, this year’s race will be different. Millions of people will be betting on the race, but zero will be in attendance.

To help slow the spread of COVID-19, Churchill Downs has decided to run the race without fans.

CDI issued the following statement:

“The health and safety of our team, fans, and participants is our highest concern. Churchill Downs has worked diligently over the last several months to plan a safe Derby with a limited number of spectators in attendance. We were confident in that plan, but dedicated to remaining flexible using the best and most reliable information available. With the current significant increases in COVID-19 cases in Louisville as well as across the region, we needed to again revisit our planning. We have made the difficult decision to hold this year’s Kentucky Derby on September 5 without fans.”

You can view the full statement here.

The decision was met with support from Gov. Andy Besher who said he applauds Churchill Downs for continuing to monitor the virus and for making the right and responsible decision.

“I am asking all Kentuckians to take action to stop the spread of the virus so we can get back to the many traditions we enjoy, like the Kentucky Derby,” Besher said.

Last year’s race ended in controversy when Maximum Security (10:1) was disqualified for interference, the first on-track disqualification in history.

Eventual winner, Country House (65-1), was not even on the radar.

The Run for the Roses may lack the fan experience of all previous years, but it will not diminish the achievements for all involved. Tiz the law comes it at the favorite but it’s been a couple of years since the favorite walked away as the winner.

Based on the name alone, Art Collector sounds like a great name for a winning thoroughbred.

Here are the top nine horses in terms of odds right now:

  • Tiz the law 4:5
  • Art Collector 6:1
  • Honor A.P. 7:1
  • Authentic 8:1
  • Thousand Words 20:1
  • King Guillermo 25:1
  • NY Traffic 25:1
  • Caracaro 28:1
  • Dr. Post 30:1

The rest of the field is set at odds 25:1 or longer. The horse with the longest odds is Necker Island (200:1).

How to bet on the Kentucky Derby

There are several different ways to put a bet on the Kentucky Derby. First of all, residents in 32 states have the ability to place horse racing wagers through their mobile devices.

Companies that serve these states can vary. However, if possible, you should try to stick to one of these three sites to bet:

  • TVG
  • BetAmerica
  • Twin Spires

Both TVG and BetAmerica appear to be legal in all 32 states and are some of the best horse racing sites out there. Twin Spires (where available) maybe the most appropriate to bet the Derby since it is the online arm of Churchill Downs itself.

If you happen to reside in a state without online betting, or you prefer a live experience, it is possible to bet the Kentucky Derby from many horse tracks around the country. Many locations are simulcast facilities, and their tellers are perfectly capable of accepting wagers on the Run for the Roses.

Off-track betting facilities can also assist anyone who would like to bet on the Derby. The availability of these facilities varies on a state-by-state basis.

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How to throw a Kentucky Derby Party during a pandemic


In a traditional year, Kentucky Derby party invitations would be of high-quality stock, and, preferably not electronic if you want to stick with the nostalgic motif. While you can still take this route, invitations during a pandemic could easily be sent electronically.

You can still set a time for the party that will allow for plenty of pre-race celebration. Early afternoon is ideal. In keeping with tradition, just because the party is virtual doesn’t mean you have to skip dressing up.

Dress code

People dress for the Kentucky Derby as a sort of throwback to a more genteel time in the cultural South. So, proper attire requires a mixture of both formality and gaudiness.

The crown jewel, literally, of Kentucky Derby wear is the hat. A Kentucky Derby hat tends to be a wide-brimmed affair with some sort of over-the-top accessory adorning the band. Straw hats with bows or ribbon or fascinators work well.

Women typically wear these hats along with colorful patterned, ruffled or gingham dresses, or other floral garments. Men will usually wear suits, but some degree of gauche, preppy design is usually desirable (think seersucker, bowties, pastels, linen, bowler hats.) It’s definitely a time to be loud, bold, and over-the-top. In other words, foul fashion-wearing poker player John Hesp would feel right at home at the Derby.

Social distancing party or virtual party

If you’re playing it safe and opting to host your Kentucky Derby party online, you can do so via the many video conference apps out there.

  • Zoom
  • Skype
  • Google
  • FaceTime

Should you opt to have a few people in attendance be sure to follow they are either in your usual “pod” or stay at the recommended 6-foot social distancing guidelines courtesy of the CDC. To add another layer of virus protection, wear a mask for your event and have guests wear masks too. If you all want to give a nod to the Derby’s famed over-the-top style, wear a mask — but make it fashion.

Food and beverage

The Kentucky Derby may be the only sporting event with a well-known official beverage. The Mint Julep has been a staple at the race for decades, so having a Derby party without serving them/or drinking one, would be a cardinal sin.

For those who don’t know, a mint julep is a unique concoction of bourbon, mint, water, and sugar. Woodford Reserve bourbon is the official whiskey of the Derby, but any good bourbon will do. For that matter, bourbon is pretty good as-is. The recipe is also easy to make, and if you want to get extra fancy, serve them in official silver Julep cups.

For food, you can’t go wrong with the authentic Kentucky dish called hot brown. Basically, a hot brown is an open-faced turkey and bacon sandwich covered in Mornay sauce or cheese. It was invented at the Brown Hotel in Louisville, hence the name.

For dessert, naturally, serve derby pie. Derby pie is a chocolate and walnut tart that is so famous, people go to court over its naming rights.

Failing all of the above, you can use dishes served on the grounds of Churchill Downs. The racetrack itself publishes the recipes for all different types of food cooked for guests there.

Above all else, the Derby is a time to have fun, even during a global pandemic. Dress up, get loud, and yell for your favorite horse. If you have guests over, be smart, be safe. If you opt to go the virtual route, that’s okay too. If you’re having trouble getting into the spirit, a couple of Julep’s should help.

Bart Shirley Avatar
Written by
Bart Shirley

Bart Shirley is a senior evergreen content writer for PlayUSA. He’s been writing and reporting on the gambling industry since 2013. Prior to working for PlayUSA, Shirley was a feature writer for QuadJacks, a site covering issues in poker. He also writes for BonusCodePoker, a poker satire site that lampoons the lighter side of card games. Shirley is a graduate of the MBA program at Texas Christian University’s Neeley School of Business and has a degree in English from Texas A&M University. He grew up in Houston, TX, and lives in Katy, just west of Houston. Shirley is also a former high school teacher. He is married, has one daughter, and practices Brazilian jiu jitsu in his spare time.

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