Feeling the earth shake as a mass of thundering hooves goes barreling down the stretch during a horse race is one of the quintessential Kentucky experiences.


Each May, more than 150,000 fans gather at Churchill Downs to attend the most famous horse race in America: the Kentucky Derby. Other races held at Churchill Downs are equally beloved by Kentuckians, including Thurby and Kentucky Oaks. Keeneland, a National Historic Landmark in Lexington, holds world-class thoroughbred races in the spring and fall, as well as some of the most prestigious horse sales in the world. Throughout the year, the public can watch racehorses run through their early morning workouts, followed by breakfast at the Track Kitchen – an intimate experience that will make you feel like you’re part of a special club. 


And if you’d just like to learn about the sport's inspiring horses, trainers and jockeys, the Kentucky Derby Museum and the International Museum of the Horse at the Kentucky Horse Park will give you a deeper appreciation for the animals and the sport.

Trip Inspiration

The Black Derby Experience

By Nneya Richards


One of the most well-known horse experiences in the world offers a diverse experience for everyone! Kentucky Derby history is Black history. Plan a trip to Kentucky for the Kentucky Derby, and be sure to experience Black Derby!


Travelers heading to Kentucky hoping to experience Black history and culture can add Kentucky’s most famous event and attraction to their list, the Kentucky Derby. Considered the most exciting two minutes in sports, the Derby is more than just a race. 


There are two weeks of Derby events leading up to this exciting moment. Whatever time of the year you’re visiting Kentucky, the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky, is always a great place to visit. While there, explore the Black Horsemen of the Kentucky Turf exhibition at the International Museum of the Horse and learn about the strong influence of African Americans on the Kentucky Derby. Kentucky Horse Park is also the final resting place of famed horseman Isaac Murphy. Beginning his career at 14, influenced by a father figure who was a horse trainer, Murphy went on to become one of the highest-paid athletes and among the most famous men in America. Murphy won three runnings of the Kentucky Derby and was the first jockey to be inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame at its creation in 1955. When the Derby started at the turn of the last century, African Americans in the horse industry were not an anomaly. The first five winning jockeys of the Derby were African Americans; in the first Derby, 13 of the 15 riders were African American. Oliver Lewis, a Black jockey from Fayette County, won the first Kentucky Derby in 1875 atop Aristides. Explore these stories and more, often untold, Derby history.


The Black Equine Industry Today


At the exhibit Black Horsemen of the Kentucky Turf at the International Museum of the Horse at Kentucky Horse Park, you might spy a name that is still a force in the Kentucky equine industry, going back generations. Carrying on the legacy of his grandfather and great-grandfather, Greg Harbut sits as the owner of Harbut Bloodstock racehorse management company as well as the co-founder of the Ed Brown Society. The Ed Brown Society provides internships and scholarships for young people of color, providing an entryway into Kentucky’s equine industry.  


Derby Style


It’s not a Derby if you don’t dress for the party! Right? Kentucky Derby attire!


From the Derby and images of finely clad people sipping mint juleps to Veuve Clicquot's famous Polo Classic in the summer, equine sports encourage a display of your Sunday best. Get fitted for the perfect Derby hat at milliner Derby Diana’s in Louisville. A known jewel in Louisville for her statement fascinators, send a fabric swatch to Black-owned Derby Diana’s for the perfect piece to match your derby look. Another legendary Louisville millinery? Ashley Russell, a staple at Derby Diversity Week’s fashion show.


Kentucky’s First Black-Owned Bourbon Distillery


Speaking of mint juleps, diversify your palate at Brough Brothers Distillery, the first Black-owned bourbon distillery in Kentucky. 


Challenging people’s opinions of the typical bourbon customer, the Yarbrough brothers founded the Brough Brothers Distillery in 2021, hoping to open up bourbon to new palates. Based in Louisville, the Brough brothers offer excellent distillery tours each Saturday. 


The Black Derby Restaurant Experience.


There’s no doubt that when in Kentucky, you’re going to enjoy the food. There’s even a food experience honoring the legacy of the Black horsemen in Kentucky! If you’re in Louisville for the Derby, make sure to visit The Black Jockey Lounge, owned by Tawana Bain. Bain is also the founder of Derby Diversity Week! An Open Table Diner’s Choice winner serving delicious, elevated Southern cuisine (think fried green tomatoes and blackened salmon), the restaurant honors historical Black jockeys and their stories on the menu as well as the decor. 


The Trifecta Gala


The Pomp and Circumstance of the Derby experience can not be missed!


A major Kentucky Derby celebrity haunt is The Trifecta Gala – often attended by some of the most prestigious who’s who of Black Hollywood. The Trifecta is an annual Derby-eve black-tie celebrity charity gala in Louisville, Kentucky, hosted by the Bridgeman Charitable Group. The funds go to various charities in Louisville. Other events sponsored by The Trifecta include the Esquire Derby Lounge and Avant Garden Derby Night Party featuring big names in the worlds of fashion, art and entertainment. Events like these and the events surrounding Derby Diversity Week are amazing networking and brainstorming activities. Connections are made from Louisville to Ghana with field thought leaders, like medaled Olympians, diplomats and Emmy-winning producers, gathering with the excitement for diversity in the Derby experience.


Explore the Melannaire Marketplace for more Black-owned businesses to support while enjoying your Black Derby experience. 

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