Derby Fun Throughout the Bluegrass State

by Ben Mackin


It’s Derby season in Kentucky. Not just at Churchill Downs or in Louisville, but throughout the Bluegrass State. No matter where you go in the commonwealth, you are sure to find an unforgettable Kentucky Derby experience. 2024 marks the 150th Run for the Roses and Kentucky is going all out to celebrate.  


Whether you are in the grandstands at Churchill Downs and cheering on your horse, sipping on a mint julip at Keeneland, or watching a Derby themed pedal cart race in downtown Frankfort, you are in for a great time before, during, and after the race. 



Join the Festival! 


The Kentucky Derby Festival attracts more than 1.5 million visitors during the weeks leading up to the The Derby.  The annual festival features 70 events of every kind. From parades to marathons to elegant balls to wine festivals, the Derby City pulls out all the stops for this one-of-a-kind celebration.  

The events not to be missed include: 

  • Thunder Over Louisville – April 20. Recognized as the Kickoff event for the festival, Thunder Over Louisville turns 35 this year. The daylong air and fireworks show happens over the Ohio River and is best viewed downtown along Eighth Street. 

  • Great BalloonFest – April 25-26. Be sure to periodically look up at the sky see all the colorful balloons, both during the day and after the sun goes down.   

  • Ken-Ducky Derby – April 27. When you think of the Kentucky Derby, the animal that comes to mind right after a horse, is a duck. Obviously. This particular derby consists of dropping around 46,000 rubber ducks into the Ohio River, the first duck that floats to the finish line wins. Each duck is purchased by a member of the community, with proceeds going to a local charity.  

  • Pegasus Parade – April 28.  This family-friendly annual event showcases some of the nation’s finest marching bands and equestrian units, along with inflatable characters and colorful floats. This parade starts rolling west down Broadway starting at 3 p.m. 

  • WineFest - April 30. Hosted every year on the Tuesday before The Derby, the WineFest features more than 100 wineries from around Kentucky. Hosted at the Mellwood Art Center, sip on the commonwealth’s finest vino while you gaze upon spectacular works of art in the museum’s Picasso and Monet Rooms.  

Watch the Derby from Another Racetrack! 

  • Kentucky Derby at Keeneland – Just 70 miles away from Churchill Downs, the entire city of Lexington will be celebrating the Run for the Roses at Keeneland. Walk the grounds of this historic racetrack as you enjoy live music, food trucks, family activities and of course the opportunity to place bets and watch the race.  

  • Turfway Park Racing & Gaming Kentucky Derby Party – If you find yourself in Northern Kentucky, be sure to stop by Turfway Park in Florence. The track will feature traditional drink and food specials, hat contests, live music, and simulcast racing throughout the day. 



Citywide Derby Parties  


The "Peddle for the Posies" during the Downtown Frankfort Derby Breakfast Celebration (Courtesy of Visit Frankfort)



  • Downtown Derby Day Breakfast Celebration - What better way to celebrate the Kentucky Derby than in Kentucky's capital city, Frankfort. This annual Derby morning tradition is held in the city’s downtown district, and it is perfect for adults and kids alike. Complete with food, cocktails, and games for all ages, this event will surely leave your family with lasting memories. 

  • Run For The Roses at Newport on the Levee - Newport on the Levee is one of Northern Kentucky’s premiere entertainment hubs will throw its annual Derby Day bash starting at 4 p.m. Join in on the fun for this race viewing event where hats are big, juleps are fine, and the excitement is endless. 

  • Water of Life FestivalPaducah celebrates all things Kentucky! Featuring live music, bourbon tastings, and Derby & Kentucky themed specials in shops and restaurants all day long, this annual event brings the excitement of the Kentucky Derby to Downtown Paducah. Enjoy activities for the whole family, then find a table at your favorite venue to see the Run for the Roses at the end of the evening. 



A Different Kind of Horsepower  


Horsepower Experience at the National Corvette Museum Horse Park - April 22 to May 9. As the designated "pace car" for the Derby, the National Corvette Museum and the NCM Motorsports Park will provide Derby fans a type of racing with more of a throaty growl and can be enjoyed on select days before or after the Derby’s Sesquicentennial. Embrace a different kind of horsepower during this derby experience as you take a C8 Corvette for a spin around the scenic countryside track. A ticket to the museum and a $15 voucher to the Stingray Grill are also included. Must be at least 18-years-old with a driver’s license to drive, passengers welcome. 



Host Your Own Derby Party 


No matter how many people you have coming over to watch the race, there are so many ways to make your at-home Derby experience unforgettable for you and your guests. From Derby hat making to make-your-own julip bars, the possibilities are endless. Check out our tips for Hosting the Perfect Derby Party here.   



Place Your Bets! 


There are a lot of ways to pick your winner. Whether you play the odds or you just like the steed’s name, having a “horse in the race” is half the fun of going to a Derby event. If you are looking to put some money down on a pony or two, wagers can be made at any one of the racetracks and gaming centers around the commonwealth. For those watching from outside the tracks and gaming halls, bets can be made in Kentucky several sports book apps. Click here to learn more about sports wagering in Kentucky.


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