13 Fun Kentucky Derby Party Ideas to Help You Celebrate

The first Saturday in May is one of the biggest celebrations in the country. So I’m gathering 13 fun Kentucky Derby party ideas for a celebration with friends.

You don’t have to love horses (I grew up with horses, so I do love them.) or even horseracing to host or attend a Kentucky Derby party.

The Kentucky Derby isn’t just a race for the best 3~year~old thoroughbreds in the world. It’s an opportunity for Derby parties.

Ladies wear hats and men wear seersucker suits. Everyone drinks mint juleps and dresses in their springtime finest.

If you need an excuse for a gathering of friends (even a very small one), a Kentucky Derby party is the perfect one.

I’ve got great Derby party ideas ~ decorations and recipes ~ to share. Use every one of them or just one. You will have a blast.

Fun Ideas to Help You Host a Kentucky Derby Party

Sweet Shark and I attended the Kentucky Derby in 2001. I can honestly say it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

I cried when I walked into Churchill Downs and felt the excitement and history and the beauty.

In 2002 Sweet Shark and I went to the Preakness in Baltimore.

In 2003 we saw Funny Cide lose the Triple Crown in a torrential downpour at the Belmont. It was our own version of the Triple Crown.

We decided that we would host a Kentucky Derby Party of our own. We held our first party in 2003. It was such a huge hit with all our friends that we couldn’t stop.

Since then our custom is to have a party every other year. We skipped a party or two when we were between houses so 2018 marked our 7th Kentucky Derby Party in 15 years.

Unfortunately, we had to cancel our 2020 party, but in 2022 we will be back in full force. The invitations have been sent.

I’m always looking for new Kentucky Derby party ideas to keep the party fresh for us and our guests.

Whether you host a Kentucky Derby party or not, you will enjoy some of the creative decorating and food resources I’ve found ~ some definitely adaptable to any gathering.

Aside: I grew up loving horses and had my own horse from junior high through college. I still ride occasionally if the opportunity arises; I’ve been fortunate to ride in Mexico a few times, Utah, Georgia, and Colorado.

Once my older daughter, who also has always loved horses too and was on the NCAA Equestrian Team at Texas A & M (sorry, a little bragging there), and I rode through northern Georgia on a brilliant autumn day I’ll never forget.

So that day at Churchill Downs was magical and I’ve tried to recreate it with our party.

KENTUCKY DERBY PREPARATIONS

Our Kentucky Derby preparations begin at least six weeks ahead when we send out a Save the Date to our guests.

Four weeks out we send the invitation. I used to design, print and mail invitations, but for the last 2 parties, I’ve used Paperless Post to design and send the invitations.

Here’s another post with lots of Kentucky Derby party ideas.

In 2018, the Kentucky Derby fell on Cinco de Mayo, which is a big deal in Texas. I designed the invitation to combine the two events.

Kentucky Derby Party Ideas

Here is the invitation I sent last week for 2022:

Kentucky Derby Party Ideas

One to two weeks before the party, we bring down our boxes of decorations from the attic. I take inventory of what we want to reuse.

(We bought a thousand cups, napkins and stir sticks years ago. I don’t think we will ever run out ~ quantity is less expensive in the long run.)

The nice thing about Kentucky Derby party decorations is that they don’t really go out of style. Any new items we need for the party, Sweet Shark and I divide and conquer.


I set out the decorations and decorate the entry and living room, and set the dining room table. I also plan the menu and cook. Obviously, he is in charge of stocking the bar.

Usually the weekend before the party, we finalize the men., I make a list of groceries, flowers and any other items we need. Then I start my mise place mid~week and start preparing the food.

This year I’m trying a couple of new recipes, just for fun and to shake things up a bit. In 2018, I did order several items from our Central Market. I’ll do that again because there is no sense to run yourself ragged.

Thursday and Friday are spent cooking and final decorating, such as flower arrangements, getting out china, silver and serving pieces, and setting the tables. 

Saturday morning is spent with final food prep. Sweet Shark sets up the bar.

I like to be finished and ready to go (ovens turned on) about two hours before our guests arrive. It’s good to relax and do a final check that all is ready.

KENTUCKY DERBY DECORATION IDEAS

IDEA #1 ~ DERBY WREATH

Every party needs decorations and Kentucky Derby is no exception. The “Run for the Roses” dictates that roses should be somewhere in your party scene.

Heather at Southern State of Mind offers several ideas, but I absolutely love this horseshoe wreath full of red roses. It has given me a great idea for my door decoration.

Kentucky Derby Party Ideas

IDEA #2 ~ DERBY BANNER

I discovered these adorable printables for Kentucky Derby from Melissa of Polka Dot Chair. This is one creative lady.

With her printables, you can make banners, cupcake toppers, rosettes ~ just about anything for a Kentucky Derby party. I ordered the printables ($4.50 for 15 pages of Derby party ideas). Then I used them to make my banner and table decorations.

Kentucky Derby Party Ideas

Here you can see how to make a Kentucky Derby banner like the one I made for our mantel.

Kentucky Derby Party Ideas

IDEA #3 ~ BLACK HORSE DIY

I recently found this Kentucky Derby horse decoration that I thought was really cute from Heather at Southern State of Mind. I have the moss, so I just need to find a black horse.

Kentucky Derby Party Ideas

IDEA #4 ~ DERBY HAT DIY

Hats for Kentucky Derby are notorious for outlandish flowers, feathers and size. Here is a great DIY for a floral Kentucky Derby hat.

Kentucky Derby Party Ideas

KENTUCKY DERBY FOOD IDEAS

Here are a few of our Kentucky Derby menu favorites.

IDEA #5 ~ JALAPEÑO CORNBREAD SALAD

One dish that I make every year is Jalapeño Cornbread Salad ~ which this year will be a cross over to Cinco de Mayo. It is always a crowd favorite.

Make the cornbread and prepare all the vegetables and the dressing the day before and assemble the salad the day of the party. The recipe makes a lot and it will be all gone!

Kentucky Derby Party Ideas

IDEA #6 ~ SOUTHERN PIMENTO CHEESE

I absolutely love this homemade Pimento Cheese, which is always a Southern favorite. It’s made with homemade mayonnaise ~ don’t let that scare you. It’s easy and well worth the extra time to make it.

I like to serve the dish in a silver bowl with toast points and crackers. This post also has pictures of our 2016 party with pretty pictures of some of guests in their best Kentucky Derby outfits.

Kentucky Derby Party Ideas

IDEA #7 ~ RASPBERRY CHOCOLATE TARTLETS

You have to have a little sweet for Kentucky Derby. I like easy, mini~desserts that guests can just take a bite ~ or two ~ of and not have to use a fork or spoon.

These Raspberry Chocolate Mousse Tartlets fit the bill at our last Derby party.

Kentucky Derby Party Ideas

KENTUCKY DERBY BEVERAGE IDEAS

IDEA #8 ~ CLASSIC MINT JULEP

You can’t have a Kentucky Derby party without serving the Classic Mint Julep. Sweet Shark has tweaked his version and it’s the one we’ve used for years.

He makes a quart of mint simple syrup ahead and sets up his bar with glasses, bourbon, lots of crushed ice, a pitcher of cold water, and mint sprigs. Then he gives the proportions to the bartender we always hire.

TIP: We buy the ice for mint juleps at Sonic.

Kentucky Derby Party Ideas

TIP: If you are having a big crowd, do yourself and your guests a favor and hire a bartender. It’s worth every penny so you can be with your guests and enjoy the party. The same goes for help to serve, refill platters and clean up. Best money ever spent.

IDEA #9 ~ LEMONADE MINT JULEP

Here is another mint julep idea from Bless Her Heart Ya’ll, another Southern girl. A little different twist, a Lemonade Mint Julep, but it looks delicious.

Kentucky Derby Party Ideas

IDEA # 10 ~ NON~ALCOHOLIC MINT JULEP

If you need to include a non~alcoholic version, here’s a Mock Mint Julep recipe you should check out from An Alli Event.

Kentucky Derby Party Ideas

IDEA # 11 ~ KENTUCKY OAKS LILY COCKTAIL

Did you know that on the Friday before the Derby, the fillies run in the Kentucky Oaks. It’s the beginning of a wild and wonderful weekend.

The Oaks has its own drink, the Lily. Get in party mode and toast the fillies with this drink.

Kentucky Derby Party Ideas

IDEA # 12 ~ HORSE STIR STICKS

For a really fun Kentucky Derby party idea, these DIY horse stir sticks would be so cute.

Kentucky Derby Party Ideas

IDEA #13 ~ FLAG TOPPERS

These little Kentucky Derby “flags” would make cute stir sticks or cupcake toppers. Just print out your favorite Kentucky Derby sayings, cut them out and attach to a straw with a glue stick.

Kentucky Derby Party Ideas

I hope these ideas give you some inspiration for your future Kentucky Derby party. It’s not too late for an impromptu party or you can Pin these Kentucky Derby party ideas for next year.

I can’t wait to have guests over for our Kentucky Derby party this year. It will be so fun to celebrate this iconic American event with friends.

Kentucky Derby Party Ideas
Kentucky Derby Party Ideas
Kentucky Derby Party Ideas

Similar Posts

16 Comments

  1. HI carol
    I love that you got a little cinco de mayo going on! the Kentucky Derby is on my girlfriends’ list. But, until then my husband and I are hosting a cinco de mayo here in Colorado! Enjoy the weekend. laura

  2. Really fun idea, Carol! I used to love watching the horses run when I was a kid {One of those Saturday afternoon events on those few t.v. channels we had! Lol!}. Pinning a ton.

    Hope your Cinco de Mayo party is a hit,
    Barb 🙂

    1. Barbara, we loved going to the races, although not as much as we used to. The Derby is definitely the highlight of the racing year.

  3. This looks like so much fun and your dining room will be newly decorated! I grew up in Baltimore, where The Preakness reigned supreme. I love a good horse race and party 😉

    1. Tracey, we had a blast in Baltimore. Food was great and then we drove over to the Eastern Shore to St. Michael’s for one night. It was gorgeous weather and such a pretty little town.

  4. I went to the Preakness many moons ago in another life (I was an attorney in D.C., before marriage and kids) and had a blast!Your party sounds spectacular! Have fun:) Thanks for sharing at Vintage Charm! xo Kathleen

  5. This would be so much fun and I really don’t know why I haven’t done it. Thanks for the inspiration and for joining us again at Celebrate Your Story, have a great weekend.

  6. Very sweet ideas for Derby Day! Believe it or not, where I live in Denver, Colorado, has one of the largest derby Days of any city. It began as a fundraiser to fund scholarships in memory of a young man that died tragically and has now grown to have thousands in attendance.

    1. Pat, I had no idea that Denver loved the Derby. I hope you’ll share these ideas with your friends. Have a great time watching the race. P.S. my son lives in Denver.

  7. When we lived in San Diego area (25 yrs) we went to one of favorite Mexican places for Cinco de Mayo along with many other San Diegans. So many wonderful Mexican restaurants. Those people really knew how to make excellent margaritas. There are a few good Mexican places here in western CO/few miles west of Grand Junction also. I am a very particular margarita drinker. Can’t have too much since I take meds that don’t agree with them, shouldn’t drink with. Hubs takes high blood pressure meds so shouldn’t drink either. We’re both light weights. If I drink couple beers am wasted.
    We also lived in KY for 5 yrs before here, outside Bowling Green. Sure do miss the excellent antique/vintage stores there. We had to move back west as I have allergies, asthma and arthritis. Not good climate for me.
    Grand Junction is way too expensive to live here on SS. Too many boomers and Gen/x generations come here with their money, drive prices way up. Has been hard for us, beenhere since 2004.Need to go, supper ready. hope your trips arefun and great for you.

    1. JaneEllen, We vacationed in San Diego (actually, Carlsbad) for over 15 years. Love the area to visit, but couldn’t live there. I understand the allergy issue ~ we have it here in Texas too. I hope you find the just right spot to live. Wish you could try Sweet Shark’s margaritas ~ they are the best. Thanks for reading Bluesky at Home. I really appreciate your visits and comments.

  8. Carol, your Derby Party sure sounds like a lot of fun! What a great idea! I wish I could try one of Sweet Shark’s margaritas! We have spent out winters in Texas — South Padre Island — for 15 years! Just love it there! It was always fun to go over to Progresso and sip those delicious margaritas on a hot day and enjoy the bands! Have fun!

Comments are closed.