Derby Party Planning 101 {Budget-Friendly Ideas}


derby party planning 101Every first Saturday in May is Kentucky Derby Day! Here’s your Louisville Mom guide to Derby Party Planning 101, along with many budget-friendly ideas. The Derby Party-throwing queen in our family is hands-down, Dannon Gough. She’s technically my aunt but feels more like a cousin or sis-in-law since we’re around the same age. 🙂 Dannon is the one I turned to first when preparing to write this post! She goes ALL OUT for her Derby parties!!!

“I steal a lot of my ideas from Pinterest. I have a whole board dedicated to the Derby. There are several staple recipes like Derby Pie, Kentucky Hot Browns sliders, Bourbon meatballs, or even KY fried chicken that I use every year,” she told me when I first asked her for her best tips.

After you’ve sent all your invites, it’s time to get down to the rest of the party planning. Dannon’s Kentucky Derby 101 pin from Evite tells you what to talk about, what to know, and what to wear.


Start your party with some Derby trivia!
  • Why is it called “the most exciting two minutes in sports”?
  • What is the significance of “half a ton”?
  • What is the number “400” symbolic of?
  • What is the trophy that goes to the winning horse’s owner made of?


Race Day Basics
  • The Horses
  • The Track
  • The Location
  • The Date
  • The Purse
  • The Betting

derby party planning 101WHAT TO WEAR

For The Ladies
  • The Dress – classic Spring dresses in pretty solids or prints
  • The Hat – fancy hats or fascinators
    • A Bit of Lexington – This is a very reasonable hat/fascinator shop that Dannon has gotten most of hers from. They are near Versailles and are handmade.
    • The Hat Girls – This is a high end hat/fascinator shop, if you really want to treat yourself! They are much more expensive, but you can take ideas from them for a DIY fascinator.
    • Order one off Amazon, or make your own to save even more money! We found this fun one you can do with the kids with supplies all from the Dollar Tree!
  • The Bag – cute little Spring purses in straw or fabric
For the Gentlemen
  • The Bow Tie – Derby-themed prints are best
  • The Hat – straw boater or other old-school hats
  • The Jacket – navy sports coat with gold buttons is classic, but a blue-and-white seersucker ups your game; or opt for a bright pastel print to turn heads


One pin from her Pinterest board she shared with me is from Polka Dot Chair. Melissa Mortenson shares 21 ideas for low-key and family-friendly Derby parties. She has several DIY decoration and home decor options and free Derby printables. Melissa has SO many ideas for all things Derby party, it’s really hard to choose! You should really pick at least one thing from her list to try each year.

Dannon says, “Every year, I add a couple more decorating pieces. I’ve found stuff on Amazon, at Hobby Lobby and Party City, and on Etsy.”

Dannon has a glitter horse equestrian you can use for a centerpiece or a large cake topper she found for about $4.50 on Etsy. Using lots of red roses is always a safe bet! Make or buy banners, signs, wreaths, and more with sayings like…

  • Talk Derby to Me
  • Derby All Day; Party All Night
  • Go, Baby, Go
  • Win, Place, Show
  • My Old Kentucky Home

You can also make a photo spot by hanging a plastic tablecloth from the Dollar Tree, making a banner that says, “At the Race”, and finding horse balloons. Then, make selfie signs and get jockey or horse hats to snazz it up.

derby party planning 101WHAT FOOD TO SERVE


“Another Derby staple is Mint Juleps, although I do not really like them, but they are Derby famous,” Dannon told me. Her pin for Mint Julep Punch from Pizzazzerie has the perfect twist on the classic mint julep. Courtney Whitmore shares, “When I’ve been at Derby parties or anywhere where mint juleps are served, I find a lot of people love the idea of a mint julep but find them a little strong in the bourbon/mint flavors. They’re pretty, of course, but not everyone’s taste. That’s another reason I love this punch version. It mellows out the intensity yet still has the mint and bourbon flavors.” You can print Courtney’s recipe easily HERE. Putting out bourbon, wine, and a variety of sodas is great as well.



Since the actual race is ONLY two minutes, what in the world are you going to do for the rest of your party time???

  • Use ideas from our “What to Talk About” and “What to Know” sections.
  • Do your own betting! You can make your own betting cards, or set out mason jars for everyone to put their name in for their picks. Then, you just divide the winnings among the names in the winning jar.
  • Play the Kentucky Derby Party “Best in Show” Game!
    • Vote for Best Hat, Best Dressed Gent, Best Dressed Couple, etc.
  • Take LOTS of photos!!!
  • Looking for something fun to entertain the kids during your party? We created a FREE Derby-themed coloring sheet printable just for you!


gough derby party


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