About Us : In The News : How to do the Derby (hint: start planning now)
By Brian Weinberg | December 8, 2008
The Derby is the most exciting two minutes in all of sports, and for those planning to attend, the call to post is now.
The race, held in Louisville on the first Saturday in May every year since 1875, and its sister contest, the Kentucky Oaks (the day before), draw some 250,000 people to Churchill Downs (nasdaq: CHDN - news - people ). Race tickets, party tickets, and hotel rooms can sell out by late winter. The reward for planning now: a well-orchestrated whirl of zany hats, mint juleps, high-stakes wagering, and a tumult of parties. We've handicapped your weekend here.
The Odds on Getting In: Long for reserved seating in the Grandstand and Clubhouse, including Millionaires Row, the dining rooms on the fourth and sixth floors of the Clubhouse. These seats are sold by Churchill Downs through an application process more exacting than an Ivy League school's. Preference is given to big wagerers, and though it doesn't like to say so publicly, Churchill reserves seats for VIPs--enough status gets you in the week of the race. The most newcomers can hope for is a slot on the waiting list--a down payment for coming years--and a general-admission spot ($40) standing in the infield. (Call Churchill Downs Premium Seating, 502-636-4447, for the application and prices.)
The Near Shoe-In: QuintEvents (866-834-8663, www.derbyexperiences.com) has partnered with Churchill Downs to offer a variety of Derby packages, including Millionaires Row ($4,899 for track tickets to the Derby and the Oaks, and race-day hospitality). Quint can one-stop-shop your entire weekend: seats in most areas of the Clubhouse and Grandstand, hotel and restaurant reservations, tours of horse farms and bourbon distilleries, and private-car transportation. "Quint took the heat off playing host to 26 people," says Paul Pompa, Jr., a part owner of the 2008 Derby winner, Big Brown. "They were able to get me a suite on the finish line."
Where to Hang Out at Churchill Downs: Millionaires Row, which has terraces overlooking the track and thronging infield, lavish buffets, closed-circuit TVs, short lines to pari-mutuel windows and bars, and, perhaps best of all, air-conditioning. The fourth floor is frequented by actors, musicians, and professional athletes, the sixth floor by politicos.
Where to Party: The Barnstable Brown Gala at the Barnstable family home on Derby eve (call Willie Barnstable, 502-491-6778; $20,000 for a ten-top table, $1,000 for an individual ticket) and the Grand Gala at the Galt House Hotel on Derby night (502-583-5243, www.grand gala.com; $6,500 for a ten-top table). "Those two are the most prestigious in terms of the celebrities they draw," says Louisville Courier-Journal "Buzz" columnist Angie Fenton. "Hundreds of people line the street hoping to catch a glimpse of the guests." Both are black-tie and invitation-only, but it's merely a formality provided you have VIP status or can pay the ticket price. Proceeds from both go to charity.
Where to Eat: Pat's Steak House and Proof on Main. "You never know which celebrities are gonna show up at Proof," says Fenton. "Pat's is a Louisville classic." Jockeys, trainers, and owners frequent two casual establishments on the back side of Churchill Downs, near the stables: Wagner's Pharmacy and Santa Fe Grill.
Opened in 1905, with a grandeur that so inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald, he put it in The Great Gatsby. 502-585-3200, www.seelbach hilton.com.
The Brown Hotel
This 1923 landmark English Renaissance property served the first-ever Hot Brown, Kentucky's famous open-faced turkey sandwich. 502-583-1234, www.brown hotel.com.
21c Museum Hotel
The hip alternative: a fusion of 90-room hotel and contemporary-art museum. Exhibitions throughout feature painters, video artists, sculptors, and photographers. 877-217-6400, www.21cmuseum hotel.com.
Broker Deirdre Seim rents properties in Louisville's upscale neighborhoods ranging from about $2,000 to $20,000 for the weekend. 502-403-9839, www.rentmy house4derby.com.