Growing Up and Living in the Derby City


There are few sporting events that are held each year that seem to capture the attention of the world. The Kentucky Derby is by far one of these sporting events. Growing up and living in the Derby City, this historically rich “fastest two minutes in sports” is watched worldwide. The first Saturday of each May, a field of incredibly trained three-year-old thoroughbreds line up in the start gate and spectators are in awe of these magnificent animals. They aggressively train for this event and you can tell that fact from their astonishing performance from the start to finish of the 10 furlongs (or 1.25 miles).

As a little girl growing up in Louisville, you knew when Derby season was beginning. The city almost seems to awaken from Winter and directly begins a month-long celebration process.

Kentucky Derby Festival (KDF) kicks off the Derby season with one of the largest fireworks shows in the world. This is known as Thunder Over Louisville; however, the locals simply call it Thunder.

Typically, it’s held on the second Saturday in April. Thunder Over Louisville can generate crowds of up to 700,000-800,000 people in downtown Louisville ( depending on the weather. And yes, you read that correctly. I remember it being a big deal when I finally got to go to my first Thunder without my parents and hanging out with my friends in high school and college. So much food, festivities and partying!

Another event leading up to the Kentucky Derby is The Pegasus Parade.

I remember having a permission slip for my parents to sign in order to go on a class field trip to watch the parade down on Broadway. I have some fond memories of the excitement of being able to leave school to sing and dance along with the parade participants. While all the events unfold, you find yourself with a variety of things to do in the city during this time. You can go down to the waterfront and catch a live concert. You can go grab some beer, bourbon and food at The Chow Wagon.

Louisville is not known for Kentucky Bourbon without good reason. Many of these events have something to tie in a little Kentucky Bourbon. It works famously with The Mint Julep being the official drink of the Kentucky Derby.

I can’t discuss my relationship with the Kentucky Derby and being from Louisville without mentioning the Derby Festival minimarathon/Marathon. This 13.1 and 26.2 road running race takes you through a historical course of seeing Louisville for yourself, on foot. You travel down Whiskey Row and past The Louisville Slugger Museum (amongst many other museums and arts buildings). You’ll also pass through the outskirts of The University of Louisville’s campus which takes you directly into Churchill Downs. Running through Churchill Downs, you may catch a glimpse of thoroughbreds training. I like to pretend I’m racing them as I run through this section of the course. The race continues to show what Louisville has to offer regarding scenery. I have been an official race ambassador for KDF for three years now and I have participated in some form of the race nine times. To say this event doesn’t hold a special place in my heart is an understatement.

After many events and a lot of partying options, it is time to get to the horse race itself. The Kentucky Derby, growing up in Louisville, truly begins on the previous day, the Friday before. This is known as Oaks Day and it is when the fillies come out to show their gams and what they have to offer in the sport. Growing up I remember having this day off school and ALL the parents were scattering for babysitters. Oh no, they weren’t going to work, they were going to the track dressed to their nines.

If you were going to the Oaks, you needed something pink to wear and a hat that would knock ‘em dead!

I can recall chomping at the bit to be able to go to the Oaks all dressed up. Once I was able to go to my first Oaks as an adult, I saw quickly why it is such a big deal in this city. The entire vibe of Churchill Downs is buzzing with excitement and just an overall FUN atmosphere. You can choose to go to the infield section and wear some jeans and play some cornhole, or you can purchase tickets all around different sections of the track. I personally love the paddock area where you can watch the horses being escorted in through the tunnels and out to the field for racing. You can place your bets for as little or as much as you would like, or you do not have to bet at all. You make the day what you want and regardless, it is just an amazing time!

The Kentucky Derby race day brings in the celebrities. It was and is still always a big deal around Louisville to catch a glimpse of someone famous that was in attendance. On the actual race day itself though, most of the city will host or attend a Derby party in someone’s home. Going to a Derby party growing up as a kid meant a day of just plain fun with friends and family and for the adults, a lot of drinking and yelling at the TV. The kids played while the adults traded money, guessing which horse was going to win any of the races going on throughout the day. The big race will finally be here as the band starts playing “My Old Kentucky Home”. Then, the call to the post happens with the bugler and the crowds attending Churchill Downs cheer and clap. We cheer and clap at home as well!

This is the time Louisville has been waiting for, the climactic moment where the horses load up in the gates, the bell rings, and then “They’re off!”.

I cannot truly put into words everything I feel about being from Louisville and growing up in this community around The Kentucky Derby. It is a historic event, and the entire timeframe just brings me joy. It is my favorite time of year hands down. Although Covid-19 has placed a damper on the race and the events in 2020 and somewhat in 2021, it cannot take away my excitement and pride for what this sporting event means.

Louisville would not be the same without those 2 minutes, and ALL the other events leading up to those 2 minutes. GO, BABY, GO!

What is your favorite event during the Derby season? Share your photos with #MomsAroundLouisville!


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