As spring dawns and the United States recovers from its El Niño inspired cold temperatures, many American families will be thinking about taking vacations together.

When doing so, many will want to frame their vacation around a central event. This event should ideally have aspects that appeal to family members of all ages and of varying interests. Educational and traditional aspects are beneficial as well. Of course, drama and excitement are a must, and if someone can make a little bit of money along the way? So much the better.

What is an event that encapsulates all of those things? The Kentucky Derby certainly fits the bill! Read ahead to see how to plan an excellent family vacation around the Run for the Roses.

Travel And Accommodations

Travel And Accommodations

Whether you plan to fly or drive to Louisville, you will want to make sure that you have your itinerary well prepared. Tickets should be booked as soon as possible after the destination is selected.

The city of Louisville spends months getting ready for its biggest sports draw of the year. There are a number of hotels surrounding Churchill Downs, many of which have transportation options to and from the track. Taxi and Uber drivers are also in abundance, but are also typically more costly. You will want to take your time evaluating factors such as proximity, price, and amenities at any given Louisville hotel.

Track Events

While the Kentucky Derby, the Greatest Two Minutes In Sports, will of course be the marquee event in your family’s vacation, there are other things to do at Churchill Downs which the whole family will enjoy.

Track EventsThose who really want to get to know the Derby field will enjoy getting to the track at the crack of dawn for Dawn at the Downs. Beginning on April 25th, spectators can gather around the training track from 7:00 AM until 10:00 AM to watch the morning warm-ups. This will allow visitors to see which horses (including Derby contenders as well as those pointed toward the Kentucky Oaks and other important stakes races) are settling in comfortably at Churchill Downs and are likely to run their best.

Wednesday, May 1st is Champions Day at Churchill Downs. This celebration focuses heavily on the history of Thoroughbred racing in the state of Kentucky, but it also includes the announcement of the 2024 inductees into the Kentucky Sports Hall of Fame. Those Kentuckians, who have excelled in a number of non-equine sports, will be honored for their contributions to the state’s sporting history.

One of Louisville’s most entertaining traditions is that of Thurby, the celebration that takes place the Thursday before the Kentucky Derby. Thurby is a celebration of everything having to do with Kentucky: not only horses and racing but also bourbon, bluegrass, and Southern hospitality.

Playing The Ponies

Playing The Ponies

Obviously betting is not an activity that can be enjoyed by the whole family- bettors must be at least eighteen years of age- but those who are legal adults can all have a fun time placing their wagers, and the kids can certainly reap the financial rewards if any bets are cashed in.

In order to have a good time while betting, you will first want to make sure that you know what you are doing. This includes brushing up on some basic betting vocabulary.

There are two basic categories of bets in horse racing: straight bets and exotic bets. Straight bets are the simplest bets. You are choosing one horse in one race. You can bet that horse either to win (finish first), place (finish first or second), or show (finish first, second, or third). The odds for win bets are what is displayed on the track’s tote boards.

Exotic bets are more complex, but can also yield more lucrative results. Horseplayers may want to bet an exacta, trifecta, or superfecta, which involves choosing the top two, three, or four horses (respectively). They may also want to try a Daily Double or a Pick 3-7, which involves choosing the winner of two or more (typically consecutive) races at a time. The Kentucky Derby also conducts a special exotic bet known as the Oaks-Derby Double, in which people select the winner of the Kentucky Oaks (the distaff equivalent of the Kentucky Derby held the day before) alongside the Derby winner.

Exotic bets can be complicated, but thankfully there are many expert handicappers who regularly publish their tips. Racing apps offer an array of expert opinions to help you make your selections, plus the complete list of results from past events, as you can see here:

Of course, you will want to keep a close eye on the amount of money you wager at the track. It is recommended, especially for novice bettors, to set aside a specific, pre-planned amount of money for betting when budgeting for your Kentucky Derby vacation.


Isabella Garcia

Joining our team as a freelancer in 2020, Isabella Garcia holds an MA in Geography from UCLA, specializing in human-environment interactions. With over 18 years of experience in travel writing and exploration, she brings a wealth of knowledge about diverse cultures and eco-friendly travel. Her work often includes tips for responsible and immersive travel experiences. Isabella balances her adventurous spirit with a love for painting and learning new languages.

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