The fastest two minutes in sports gets all the attention, but the truth is the Kentucky Derby is an all-day event. The cheapest way to experience the Kentucky Derby is through the general admission passes, which one can obtain for as low as $60. Tickets are still available on the day of the Kentucky Derby but they will rise to $80. These prices are as of the 2017 running of the Kentucky Derby. The experience you have at the Kentucky Derby will really vary depending on where you get tickets. This article is about what you can expect if you decide to go to the route of infield / general admission tickets. Let me warn you: it is not the fancy party you may expect based on what you've seen at the Kentucky Derby on TV.
It’s the area that’s inside the actual track. You can see in the picture above that the area has a lot of people there and it is fully encompassed by the race track of Churchill Downs. When you purchase a general admission pass this is the only area you gain access to for the Kentucky Derby.
The entire Kentucky Derby is a festive and fun atmosphere, but the infield takes it to another level. It should be noted that this might not be for everyone, nor does this description apply to everyone, but the Kentucky Derby Infield is essentially a giant frat party. If you don’t believe me I strongly encourage you to go to YouTube and do a quick search. There is mud wrestling, drinking games, fighting, and all other forms of drunken debauchery. Actually, I'll save you the search:
Now there are still people who go to the Kentucky Derby infield and dress up and partake in what you tend to think of when you think Kentucky Derby. However, this is much more common in the grandstand and other seating areas. The infield, due to its lower price point, is just a different type of party. The infield does consist of people of all ages, but it is primarily a younger crowd of 20 and 30 somethings looking to have a good time. The atmosphere is overall more relaxed and fun.
It’s important to know what you can and cannot bring to the Kentucky Derby to ensure you have a good time. The full list can be found here. The big ones are you can bring your own food, water and soft drinks assuming they are in plastic bottles. I would suggest bringing these with you. The infield gets incredibly crowded, and thus making your way to vendors is a giant inconvenience. Life is just easier if you have your own stuff for the Kentucky Derby. You can bring your own chairs and blankets to sit down on, which again you probably should do. If it rains you will be happy you don’t have to stand or sit in the mud all day long. Some of the important no-no’s and things you cannot bring include purses larger than 12”, coolers, anything in a can, selfie sticks (sorry duck face ladies), backpacks, or alcohol of any kind. Security is pretty tight so there is very little leeway for any of these items.
Once you get to the Kentucky Derby everyone sets up their little area. As it gets later in the day there will be less open space so the earlier you get there the better the spot you will get. From then on just make sure you hold your spot so no one takes it over, and enjoy the festivities. There are vendors selling alcohol all over the infield and you will likely make a friend or two throughout the day. You won’t have a problem finding a mint julep vendor; they are everyone hawking their overpriced cocktails in souveneir glasses. Keep in mind that the Kentucky Derby infield is a giant party, by the end of the day the infield will be torn to shreds with trash and debris everywhere. Exiting is a pain as everyone rushes to the exit so just be patient on your way out the door.
There are some important things to know before you go to the Kentucky Derby and enjoy the day from the infield. These are my top pieces of advice for Derby Day.
Everyone should experience the Kentucky Derby infield once. There’s a reason it’s called the most festive 26 acres in sports. Sure, it is a little fratty at times, but it’s a once in a lifetime experience that can be had fairly inexpensively. Go, watch the mud wrestling, have a few drinks, and next year you can try to get an actual seat and party with the fancy people.