How to Host an Epic Derby Party

Ever thought of hosting a derby party? If not, here are four reasons why you should consider hosting one!

Chances are, if you have attended a major horse racing event, in my case, the Kentucky Derby, you will get hooked on the excitement. If you have not had the pleasure of attending this type of event, I highly recommend it!

Consider having the derby be a part of a distillery tour road trip!

While I would love to attend the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs every year, hosting a Kentucky Derby party of your own can be almost as fun and a lot cheaper.

  1. You can make the dress code whatever you like, but it is more fun when people dress up! Bring out the fancy hats!
  2. Party guests cannot complain about the cost of getting to the actual derby or food/drink costs.
  3. The weather does not matter.
  4. You can still make friendly wagers.
A group of friends that are dressed up at a derby party.

Derby Party Invitations

Let’s face it: Facebook makes inviting people to your event super easy. There are also other options out there, such as Evite, snail mail, etc.

I've found that Facebook events make it convenient for everyone – track your headcount, send out instant reminders, and invite people who are not part of Facebook with their email address or cell phone number.

Of course, classic party invitations are also fun to mail out. There are a ton of great party invite options over on Etsy.


The Classic Mint Julip is the drink of the Kentucky Derby. I've found that the percentage of people who like this fresh mint drink is 25% or less (based on my party turnout).

The Oaks race, the day before the official Kentuck Derby, has its own signature drink called Oaks Lily.  Again, not a super great drink option, but it will help you get in the real derby atmosphere.

Derby party food spread.

Derby Food

Food-wise, a Derby Party at home can have lots of advantages! There are a lot of Kentucky Derby recipes floating around on the web, no surprise here, but most contain bourbon.  Bourbon meatballs and bourbon brownies, just to name a few.

There are also many other derby-related foods, like Kentucky Hot Brown and Pimento Cheese dishes. If you decide to host a party, try potluck style.

Simply list recipes you would like to see at the event and ask guests to pick something to make.  Provide them with a recipe if they need help.

Having guests focus on bringing food will help give you time to decorate on derby day.

Homemade burlap wreath with a horse and roses.

Party Decorations

Decorating for the derby party can be as simple or challenging as you want it to be. If you are expecting children at the party, there are activities that can keep them occupied – try searching pool noodle horse or paper plate derby hat.  

Melissa over at has some really cute “Running for the Roses” template items.

The Kentucky Derby is associated with the winning horse receiving a blanket of red roses. Thus, vases of red roses also make for some great décor. Some other favorite decorating ideas include attaching napkins to silverware to look like a bow tie.

Don't let party decoration be the reason you don't host a derby party. The official Kentucky Derby website has some great accessories for decorating your party – think napkins, plates, glasses, coasters, etc. Also, check Etsy!

Derby Party Betting made simple

If you host a derby party, what would it be without some friendly wagers?!?! 

Just a guess here, but probably a majority of people do not fully understand horse betting.  I suggest keeping the betting simple – who wants to do lots of bookkeeping at a party?

Some guests will want to bet more than others, so I suggest having a few different options – $1, $2, $5 (or you can up the values to what you think your guests would want to spend).

The betting options that I have used in the past (and plan to do again this year) include the following.

$1 Random Winner. Super simple betting idea where the luck of the draw wins the pot.  Print out all the horse names, cut them apart, and place them in a holder. Head to the Dollar Store and pick up a trophy – it makes cute décor and a great horse name holder!

Alternatively, instead of slips of paper, get some little plastic horses from the dollar store, use a paint marker, and put the number on the side of the horse. Have a printout of the horse and the number next to the game in case of any confusion.

There are obviously a limited number of horses, so depending on the number of guests that you are expecting, you may run out of slips or have extras. The early bid wins the worm if you expect more than 20 guests. (Or create a second set using a different color.)

Allow each guest the option of buying into the bet; once the slips are gone, guests can always participate in a different betting pool. If your guest count is less than 20, still give the option of buying one draw.

If the winning horse was not selected, just keep moving down the line until the highest-place horse was selected. The winning pick wins the pot.

$2 Pick Your Horse. I create a super easy-to-use poster (spreadsheet) that allows people to simply write their name next to the horse they hope wins. I printed the poster on paper and taped it to the wall.

For a classier look, put the print in a frame. This betting option is a fun way to bet since you get to see who is betting on which horse. The pot is split among those who selected the top-placing horse.

$5 High Stakes. Again, this is an easy betting option for those who want to spend a little more in betting. For this option, find 20 boxes, bags, or containers in which people can drop their names in. 

Number the 20 items so the guests can place their name into the corresponding horse name that they would like to see win. Again, winner/s take all. I had a stockpile of juice glasses. (You could jazz up toilet paper tubes for the same effect).

The footprint of the glasses is relatively small, and they have vertical sides – a win-win scenario for the need at hand. Head to your favorite crafting store and get some cute paper and ribbon.

The main objective is to get the horse's name or number on the container. Here is what I came up with!

Homemade display for betting.

Now that all of the corners are covered host a derby party!

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