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 Kentucky Derby party ideas – decorations and recipes – to share. Use every one of them or just one. You will have a blast.
How to Host a Kentucky Derby Party: 13 Fun Ideas to Help You
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 saw the beauty of the Twin Shires.
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 in New York City. 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 our guests and us.
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 3 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.
Here is the invitation I sent last week for 2022:
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, Sweet Shark 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 midweek 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 in running 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 everything 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.
IDEA #2 ~ Derby Banner
I discovered these adorable printables for the 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.
Here you can see how to make a Kentucky Derby banner like the one I made for our mantel.
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.
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 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!
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.
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 Beverage Ideas
IDEA #8 ~ Classic Mint Juleps
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 crushed ice for mint juleps at Sonic.
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.
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.
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.
IDEA # 12 ~ Horse Stir Sticks
For a really fun Kentucky Derby party idea, these DIY horse stir sticks would be so cute.
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 them to a straw with a glue stick.
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.