One of America’s long-standing traditions is the Kentucky Derby. From horses and betting to hats and mint juleps, the Run for the Roses makes the first Saturday in May somewhat of a holiday whether you’re in the stands of Churchill Downs or watching at home.
This year, the iconic first leg of the Triple Crown Series happens to fall on Cinco de Mayo – if that doesn’t give you double the reason to party, I don’t know what does. If you can’t make it to Louisville, you can still celebrate the greatest two minutes in sports with a party of your own.
Whether you plan on sending paper or digital invitations to friends and family, be sure to set the tone for the style of party you plan on having. Will it be a chill backyard party where guests wear shorts and play cornhole until the race begins, or will it be a glam house party where guests don hats and sip mint juleps? Will you be providing all of the food and beverages or will it be a potluck? Will there be friendly competition or will prizes be involved?
There’s no right or wrong way to round up some fun, but if you really want to channel that Old Kentucky Home vibe, here are a few ways to do just that: Here are five elements of a winning Kentucky Derby party you can host at home.
Ask guests to arrive in true Derby style: floral dresses, hats or fascinators for the ladies and pastel or seersucker suits with bowties and colorful socks for the gents. You can up the ante by having a prize for best dressed!
There are many iconic symbols of the Derby, from red roses and jockey silhouettes to hats and horseshoes. You can add those touches in lots of ways.
Add faux red rose garlands to tables, draped above doorways or across a fireplace mantle. Place faux or real red roses in vases or old trophies to serve as classic centerpieces. For your food and refreshments table, consider purchasing a faux grass runner as the base and alternate prize ribbons, trophies, horseshoes and faux roses down the center as decoration.
A fun and affordable way to add playful horse accents is to go to your nearest craft or toy store and buy multicolored small plastic horses. You can spray paint them gold and place them anywhere – as little trinkets next to place cards at a dining table or nestled among glassware to add whimsy to the beverage table.
To encourage snapping pics at your party, designate an area as a photo wall by hanging a banner that spells out “Kentucky Derby,” “Cinco de Derby” or “Derby de Mayo”! Have props nearby, such as gold crowns (to represent the Triple Crown), prize ribbons and trophies, to make photos fun to share on social media. You can also source these photos after the party and print them to use as decoration for next year!
Twenty horses will be competing for a $2 million prize, so you can create a Win/Place/Show dry erase board so guests can write their name and which horses they bet will take home first, second and third place. You can have a prize for anyone who picked the winner!
Easy-to-eat items that have a bit of Southern flair are sure to be a hit at your party. Mini hot browns (a hot turkey [or chicken] sandwich with Mornay sauce and bacon) is a Derby day favorite. Run with the jockey theme and make a bowtie pasta salad. Mix in a little Cinco de Mayo fun with a mini taco bar, salsa, guacamole and chips.
When it comes to libations, it’s no secret that the mint julep is the signature drink of the Kentucky Derby. Create a mint julep bar with bourbon, simple syrup, mint and fresh fruits like berries, lemons and limes. A fun way to serve them is in mason jars that you can decorate by wrapping a piece of colorful felt around the jar and gluing a glittered number on each one to represent the jockey silks! Add some striped and polka-dot straws, and your drinks will be Instagram-worthy! For non-alcoholic drink options, consider using galvanized buckets with ice to hold cans and bottles of soda pop and lemonade.
For a sweet finish, decorate cupcakes with roses and even those plastic toy horses. Make fruit kabobs by stacking green grapes along the skewers and topping each off with a plump strawberry to resemble long-stemmed red roses.
There are plenty of ways to keep guests entertained and even competitive in the hours leading up to the race. In addition to a best-dressed competition, have a Derby hat design contest! To tie in Cinco de Mayo, purchase sombreros and ask guests to bring whatever creative items they need to make the most epic Derby hat. Designate a few judges and offer a prize to the winning team.
If you have friends and family who like to bake, you could encourage a Derby pie contest in your invitation wording. (This could also help you out if you don’t have time to bake sweets for the party.) Award Win/Place/Show ribbons based on guest votes.
If weather permits, don’t forget to include some outdoor activities like cornhole or taking a crack at breaking open a horse-shaped piñata!
With all of the other planning, it might be easy to forget the basics. Make sure that your TV is an appropriate size for your guests to gather around, and if you have a sound system, ensure the speakers are in working order.
Last but not least, have plenty of seating options and pillows for guests, especially if kids are in attendance, so they can lounge comfortably. Even though the 144th annual race doesn’t start until 6:46 p.m. ET, you can tune in to Derby festivities and programming on NBC starting at 2:30 p.m.
Which elements do you plan to include in your Kentucky Derby party? Let us know in the comments below!
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