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

Posted on April 29, 2019 - Last Updated on March 26, 2020

The 145th edition of the Kentucky Derby will come down the stretch on May 4, 2019.

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

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

Kentucky 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 2019 Kentucky Derby field

But first and foremost, the Kentucky Derby is, above all things, a horse race. As such, millions of people will be betting on this year’s race.

Last year, the build-up heading into the Derby centered around Justify. The horse hadn’t lost a race and entered the starting gate as the heavy favorite to win. He didn’t disappoint and went on to become the 13th Triple Crown winner in American history.

This year’s field is much less clear-cut. The most commonly identified frontrunner, Game Winner, is coming off two second-place finishes in his last two races. Consequently, two other horses in the field have pulled even with him at 6-1 odds.

There’s not very much consensus about the winner this year. However, that could signal an opportunity for a wily bettor who sees a horse with breakout potential in the field.

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

  • Game Winner – 6:1
  • Roadster – 6:1
  • Omaha Beach – 6:1
  • Improbable – 9:1
  • Maximum Security – 10:1
  • Tacitus – 12:1
  • Vekoma – 14:1
  • Code of Honor – 16:1
  • Anothertwistoffate – 20:1

The rest of the field is set at odds 25:1 or longer. So, things are pretty wide open to take a risk.

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 horseracing 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 horseracing sites out there. Twin Spires, where available, may be 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 like it’s 1875


First and foremost, your Kentucky Derby party will require invitations. These invitations need to be of high-quality stock, and, preferably not electronic if you want to stick with the nostalgic motif.

Instead, set a time for the party that will allow for plenty of pre-race celebration. Early afternoon is ideal, as the race begins at 3:50 p.m. PT. Also, you will need to specify that attendees should dress appropriately for the Derby.

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 searsucker, 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.

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 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 prepare an 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. Dress up, get loud, and yell for your favorite horse. If you’re having trouble getting into the spirit, some of that bourbon should help.

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Bart Shirley

Bart Shirley is a writer and poker player from Houston, Texas. Bart writes about the NJ online casino industry and US online poker. He has a master's degree in business administration from Texas Christian University and a degree in English from Texas A&M.

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