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Derby Time in Kentucky

Springtime in Louisville means our city wakes from it’s winter hibernation and slowly comes alive with a fever that even the stormiest of days can’t stop. We are gearing up for the Kentucky Derby. And Derby festivities are abundant even in early April. It’s Derby time in Kentucky.

Derby Festival

The Kentucky Derby Festival officially starts around April 9th and continues until the 1st Saturday in May with the KY Derby Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs.  The weeks leading up to Derby Saturday are filled with events such as The Balloon Race, The Fillies Derby Ball, They’re Off! Luncheon, Thunder Over Louisville, The Great Steamboat Race, Kentucky Proud Wine Fest, golf contests, waterfront concerts and the Pegasus Parade among many many others.

Rain or Shine

Louisvillians pray for beautiful weather during this time of year, but that doesn’t always happen. Regardless of what mother nature decides to hand us each year, the events go as planned. The Chow Wagons continue to ladle out amazing burgoo and Thunder Over Louisville carries on no matter what the weather is. There has never been a cancellation due to weather. The fireworks will continue to light the skies over Louisville and Southern Indiana, rain or snow or shine.

Thunder Over Louisville

There is no way to even begin to describe to you how amazing this day is in Louisville, or how stunning the night becomes with the start of Thunder Over Louisville. The first time I experienced this, it took my breath away. It’s considered one of the largest annual fireworks shows in the country!

The day starts with thousands and thousands showing up on the Great Lawn downtown along the river. They come from all over carrying their blankets and sunscreen – and on cold rainy days – their coats and gloves. Nothing stops this enormous crowd from gathering, not even constant rain or snow flurries.

One of the nation’s top air shows begins over head with it’s fighter squadrons and flight formations. I’ll never forget the first time I glanced up to find a B-2 Stealth Bomber slowly and quietly floating past. That is definitely a sight to behold.

The evening ends with thirty full minutes of music and explosions over the Ohio River.

Excitement in the Air Every Day

Even if we don’t attend every event during the month leading up to the race, there is the feeling of excitement and Derby in the Louisville air!

Derby parties are being planned, events are being announced, mint julep mix is on the shelves of every store. There is Derby fever in the air.

Derby Week Arrives

The actual Derby week itself finally arrives. There are tours “backside” with the sounds of hooves and images of trainers and stable hands walking by. But the most exciting moment backside is seeing one of the horses after they have finished warming up – right as the sun is beginning to make it’s way over the barns. The steam rises off it’s back as it’s being sprayed down. An early morning visit “backside” should be on every Derby visitor’s bucket list. You won’t regret it!

On a crisp spring morning steam rises from three horses in the stable area on the backside of Churchill Downs. Courtesy of rdlat / Price Weber

The Oaks vs. Derby Day

For years it seems that the ‘locals’ have attended Oaks Day rather than Derby Day because it was not as large of a crowd but we could still dress up with our Derby outfits and hats and enjoy a day of races. Oaks Day is the day before Derby. Oaks has gotten much more popular now though so the local race lovers have now created ‘Thurby’. Everyone takes off work to attend the races on Thurby! And then the Oaks and Derby Day can be enjoyed at someone’s Derby Party!

Oaks Day 2004
Oaks Day, 2004

Last year, we decided to be low-key and have our own little feast. We enjoyed our wine and cheese-fest on the veranda looking out over the Ohio River while waiting for the race to begin.

Our wine and cheese-fest on Derby Day

It never really matters how Derby Day is spent. The excitement of it just being Derby Day is enough. We can feel the buzz in the air throughout the city and after that 2 minute race that we all have been building up for, the city settles back down until next year!

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