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How To Prepare for A Kentucky Derby Party

Do you know what the first Saturday in May is? The Kentucky Derby! It’s not too late to plan an impromptu Kentucky Derby party. I wanted to show you how to prepare for a Kentucky Derby Party.

Do you know what is the most exciting 2 minutes in sports? What is the only sport that requires women to wear hats? And what event has its own designated cocktail?

Well, of course, it’s the Kentucky Derby – and this year is the 150th running of the most famous horse race in America, if not the world. This event calls for a Kentucky Derby party.

In 2001 Sweet Shark and I went to the Kentucky Derby and it still ranks as one of the best days of our lives. The pageantry, the spectacle,  the beautiful horses, the color, the hats, the mint juleps (!) – it was all a wonderful experience.

Starting in 2003, every other year we have hosted a Kentucky Derby Party (We did miss a couple of years when we were moving, lived in an apartment for a year and moved into our new house). And we had to cancel 2020’s party after the SAVE the DATE went out.

This year we are back in full Kentucky Derby party mode.

It’s our very favorite party to host. Even if you are not into horses or horse racing, the Kentucky Derby is still a great reason to gather your friends for good food, the classic mint julep and dressing up with hats!

If you can’t host a Kentucky Derby Party this year, you can save this party prep post for next year (Pin it to your Party Ideas, Please!)

The ideas and decorations I’m sharing are easy to make for a party – mostly on short notice. Send out a quick text for email invitations as I do. Gather some horse decorations in red and black, set out some easy appetizers, and make a (big) pitcher of mint juleps and you are set.

Our Kentucky Derby Party Preparations

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Preparations begin in February when I send out a “save the date” and in April, we send our official invitation. We ramp up into full swing party mode the week of the Derby. I always use PaperlessPost for our invitations.

First, I want to give you a sneak peek of some of our Derby Day decorations.

By Friday, we try to have (almost) everything in place so we can just do last-minute meal assembly, set up the bar, and relax before our guests arrive.

Kentucky Derby Party Decorations

Here are some decorations that you should consider for a Kentucky Derby party.

When guests arrive, our banner greets them outside. We put it on a pole attached to a tree in the front yard. There are all sorts of Kentucky banners available.

Kentucky derby banner

When we had our first Kentucky Derby party in 2003, we stocked up on (1000) cups for mint juleps, Derby napkins, straws, and sparkly little horse confetti to last us for awhile – as in forever.

stryofoam Kentucky Derby cup with red napkin and My Old Kentucky Home

We have over 30 Kentucky Derby glasses starting in the 80’s that belonged to Sweet Shark’s parents and we’ve added more over the years.  You can order Kentucky Derby party paraphernalia online at several sources or your local party supply store.

Kentucky derby glasses

This one is my favorite.

Jockey hats are good to have on hand in case a lady forgets to wear her hat. They are also fun to place around for decorations.

Kentucky derby jockey hat

A cute Thoroughbred pony sings for his supper and makes a great addition to the decorations. It usually sits on Sweet Shark’s bar next to the mint julep cups.

Kentucky derby stuffed horse

Speaking of mint juleps, here is Sweet Shark’s awesome recipe.

Kentucky Derby Decor on the Front Door

For a couple of parties, I used this wreath to greet guests. This Kentucky Derby wreath took me about 20 minutes to make.

Kentucky Derby wreath on front door

For this year, I made a new door hanger for our front door.

Kentucky Derby horse head door hanger

DIY Derby Tote Board

In addition to Kentucky Derby items that you can order online, there are several projects you can make yourself to add to the theme of the party.

Every year my brother-in-law makes a great tote board for the party. I’ve kept them all just because. I can’t wait to see this year’s board.

Kentucky Derby tote board

Kentucky Derby Racehorse

I found this wooden horse in Waco at the Junky Monkey when I visited Magnolia Market several years ago.

After a fresh coat of black paint, I attached the horse to a piece of scrap wood so he could stand up. His transformation was a big part of our Kentucky Derby preparations.

wooden horse

And speaking of “run for the roses”, every Kentucky Derby winner receives a blanket of red roses. Using faux roses from Hobby Lobby, a piece of burlap ribbon I had on hand, and a hot glue gun, I made our racehorse a blanket of roses.

red roses

He stands proudly on our mantel every year.

You could use heavy cardboard to cut out a horse for your own party. Just paint it black and make a stand so he stands up.

black wood Kentucky horse

Kentucky Derby Banner for the Mantel

I bought these supplies at Hobby Lobby with a special decoration in mind. This black & white check ribbon is perfect for many Kentucky Derby decorations.

In addition to our racehorse, I wanted a banner for our mantel. These letters would be perfect for a Kentucky Derby banner.

Kentucky derby banner supplies

I spray-painted the die-cut letters and bought pre-cut triangles of fabric for my project.

All I had to do was glue the letters to the fabric.

letter D on white background

Then I wove the black and white check ribbon through the fabric triangles. For a pop of red, I tied on red netting that I already had on hand.

letter D with ribbon
letter Y with red ribbon
Kentucky Derby mantel decorations

Fun Extra for a Kentucky Derby Party

Everyone gets a copy of “My Old Kentucky Home” to sing along with the 100,000 fans at Churchill Downs during the post-parade.

copy of "My Old Kentucky Home" song

With just these few decorations, your Kentucky Derby party will be a hit.

Here are more ideas to get you started on some Kentucky Derby party preparations. 

Until then, PIN this post to keep in your Kentucky Derby or Party Board.

pin for later graphic in blue
Kentucky Derby party preparations

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  1. Very cute! My sisters and I always style at least a section or two of our antique mall booths with Derby in mind. One sister always has a great selection of vintage hats, and we group equestrian themed items, including vintage Derby glassware. I hope you get to have a fun gathering this year, Carol!

  2. Sounds like you guys are going to have a blast! Looking forward to seeing the finished projects and have fun. Thank you for sharing with us this week at Celebrate Your Story, and I hope your week is going great.

    1. Sandra, it was a great party and I’m already thinking about next year’s bash. In the meantime, it’s fun to relive and share all the decorations and food. Glad you are enjoying reading about it.

  3. I confess I’ve never been to a horse race before. I’ve been to those jumping contests a few times, but never to an actual race. Sounds like you guys are going to have a blast. Thank you for sharing your Derby Party at The Really Crafty Link Party, and have a wonderful week!

    1. Teresa, horse racing is a beautiful sport, the oldest. We don’t get to them much anymore, but we do watch big races on TV. Hope to get back to the Derby one of these days.

  4. You guys are serious about this and it sounds like so much fun!

    Thanks for sharing this at Thoughts of Home. Happy Mother’s Day. 🙂

    1. Stacey, we are pretty serious about having fun and partying! Our friends would unfriend us if we didn’t have the Derby party. It was a great day yesterday and I can’t wait to share more. Happy Mother’s Day to you too.

  5. Ok Carol, now I really want to be one of your besties so that I’d get an invitation to this fantastic party! How much fun. Can’t wait to see how all your decorations come together!
    Wishing you 30 hour days between now and the party to get it all done.
    Hugs, Lynn