Saturday, December 28, 2013

Kentucky Derby Style- Turquoise and Orange

Kentucky Derby Style- Turquoise and Orange

Here's a little something I threw together on Polyvore tonight. Since it's a few days after Christmas, spring dresses haven't quite made their appearance but I did my best!  Hat by Dees Crafts in Louisville (they have the COOLEST hats). Dress is Ted Baker London from Nordstrom. Shoes are Stuart Weitzman from Purse Michaels Kors from Macy's. Jewelry is by Fornash. Nail polish is Cajun Shrimp by OPI.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Lunch at the Kentucky Derby

Don't go hungry. It's a long day and you'll need something to soak up the mint juleps, lilies and beer.

If your ticket doesn't include a lunch buffet, you're on your own for food. I have to say, the food at Churchill Downs is disappointing, to say the least. We've spent most of our years on the east end of Churchill Downs so that's what I know best. You'll find stands selling chicken fingers, burgers and fries, hot dogs, Carolina BBQ, gigantic sausages and one special stand that sells a roast beef sandwich with blue cheese and a lobster roll.

I haven't tried the burgers but I can assume they aren't hand-pattied Angus beef. The hot dogs taste like they're mostly sawdust and the Carolina BBQ? Let's just say I only ate the bun. Of course, this was the year I was hungover at the Oaks so maybe if my stomach wasn't rocking and rolling, I might have liked it better. But I doubt it. It's more like shaved pork loin instead of pulled pork from a pork shoulder. The gigantic sausages were decent. Not great, but pretty tasty after you've had a few drinks and need something with a bit o' grease.

As far as I know, there is only one stand that sells what I actually find delicious at the Kentucky Derby. It's located all the way past the paddock, keep walking past the gift shop, bypass the bank, several bathrooms and go out a set of doors. It's in a covered walkway behind the first floor clubhouse. It sells a roast beef and blue cheese sandwich (it included basil in 2008 but that was the last time I saw it with basil) and a lobster roll. Buyer beware on the lobster roll- Husband claims it was imitation crab and mayonnaise. I have no idea why there's only one place that sells it but the roast beef sandwich is definitely worth the trek if you're in the bleachers or grandstand like us.

Another option is to bring your own lunch in. Churchill Downs has very strict rules about how the food can be brought in, though, and this changes year to year so be sure to check the What to Know page at Last year, after the Boston Marathon bombing, they totally overhauled a lot of rules at the last minute so check before you pack up your fried chicken or club sandwiches!
A few Louisville restaurants sell box lunches just for the Derby. Once the Derby gets a little closer, I'll do my best to post links to restaurants that offer box lunches.

Tip: We always eat a big breakfast so we're not hungry for lunch till later in the afternoon. There are stands selling pretzels and popcorn, if you need a snack.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Where to stay for the Kentucky Derby

Hotels should be ashamed of the prices they charge for rooms during the Kentucky Derby. The Galt House Hotel in downtown Louisville usually charges anywhere from $90-200/night but Derby weekend, they ask (and apparently get!) $1200/night. And they probably have a three night minimum so you're looking at $4,000 for a hotel room for the weekend. You could buy a pretty decent used car for that price!

So where to stay without breaking the bank?

The farther you get from Louisville, the cheaper the rates get. Fort Knox is about 28 miles from Churchill Downs and you can find rooms for less than $150/night. Lexington (80 miles, give or take) has decent rates too. Open Google Maps, find Louisville, find cities along highways around Louisville, go to and start searching.

Or you could do what we do and "slum it" at one of the budget hotels in Louisville. Motel 6, Super 8, and Red Roof Inn all jack up their prices but it's not nearly as bad as Galt House, Sheraton, or Marriott. True, they don't have the greatest reviews on Trip Advisor. I'm not picky, though. The linens might not be 1000 thread count Egyptian cotton and the closest thing to room service is a drive thru down the block but I'd rather spend my money on gambling, juleps and a fabulous hat.

I fondly remember when I was watching the Belmont Stakes in 2010. I absentmindedly searched for hotels for the 2011 Kentucky Derby (yes, 11 months in advance) and found a room at Super 8 for $65/night. I quickly checked the cancellation policy and booked it. It turns out there was a change in management and no one was paying attention to Derby weekend rates. For 11 months, I periodically checked our reservation; I was terrified they were going to realize their mistake and cancel on me. Luckily, they didn't and that year we saved a fair amount of money!

Which brings me to my final tip, if you think you might go to the Derby, even if you don't have tickets, check hotel rates between May and October. At that time Derby tickets aren't on sale and you might find a loophole like we did.  Just be sure to check the reservation policy before you book anything.
Oh, one more! If you have a big group of people, check out Louisville CraigsList, HomeAway and VRBO. I've heard that people will rent out their entire houses for Derby weekend. This might be the way to go if you have a large group. A few other sites for home rentals: Kentucky Derby Home Rental and Event Home Leasing.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Thursday, December 5, 2013

My Top Three Kentucky Derby Tips

After 5 trips to the Kentucky Derby, I have made a lot of mistakes and each year, I learn something different. My number one, most important tip is....

Tip #1- Don't drink so much the night before that you're miserable the next day.
I made this mistake in 2012. We pulled into Louisville Thursday evening and hit the town. We ate dinner at Bluegrass Brewing Company downtown and then wandered over to O'Shea's for a few (several?)  more beers. I woke up feeling just dandy but as we walked into Churchill Downs, it started to hit me. I was tired and my head hurt. I was dehydrated and it was HOT that day. Our seats were in the blazing sun, water was $4 a bottle and as the day wore on, water became hard to find. I didn't take any ibuprofen before we left the hotel (apparently in my "old age" my hangovers have a delayed onset) so I went to the First Aid office where they only had aspirin and Tylenol. For me, taking Tylenol is about as effective as eating Tic Tacs so I took the aspirin... which turned out to be about as effective as eating Tic Tacs. Then, to matters worse, I had a Kelly Clarkson song stuck in my head and no matter what I did, I could not get it out of my brain. Ironically, it was the song that goes "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger." That day didn't kill me and it sort of DID make me stronger or at least smarter. I learned not to make that mistake again! Not even the age old Hair of the Dog remedy made me feel better! At around 2:30 or 3 pm, I realized the Oaks race was still 3 hours away and I threw in the towel. I looked at my husband and said, "I just can't do it anymore." We went back to our hotel, took a nap in the blissful air conditioning and after getting some decent food in my stomach (food at Churchill Downs is awful but that's another post), I started to feel human again.

How I learned from this in 2013:
I've learned that wine doesn't make me as miserable as beer the next day so I had wine with dinner on Thursday in 2013. Then I simply didn't drink as much that night.  We also brought in our own bottles of water.

Tip #2- Bring a spare pair of comfortable shoes!
 It's a long, long, long day on your feet. Unless you're someone special and/or super rich, you're starting off your day with a good 10-15 minute walk from your car to Churchill Downs. Wear the flip flops from your car to Churchill Downs and change into your heels once you're inside. You'll want to see the paddock and hit up the gift shop and after a few drinks, you'll break the seal and have to use the bathroom ten a couple times. I consider it a success if I'm still in my heels at 3. Don't be the girl walking around barefoot at the end of the day.

Tip #2.5- Wear your back up comfy shoes a few times before the Derby to make sure they really ARE comfy.  You don't want to tear the tags off and find out they rub your feet in a couple spots.

Tip #3- If there's a souvenir you have to have, buy it early in the day.
I learned this one the hard way in 2008 when I decided around noon on Derby day that I wanted the official poster. Nope. Sold out. We almost had this problem last year when we promised our three year old a green Derby shirt. We had to try at least 4 souvenir stands (lots of walking! Remember tip #2!) to find the green shirt in the smallest size. Which is still gigantic on him and it probably won't fit till he's 5 or 6. But we kept our promise! It stinks to carry it around all day but if you have to have it, it's worth it. Or if you're going to the Oaks and the Derby, pick it up near the end of the day on Oaks day.

 The poster that most likely will never grace my walls.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Delta Downs Jackpot

I didn't get a chance to handicap this race but just looking at who was entered, I would have bet on Whyruawesome based on the name alone and on Mighty Brown because I assume he's an offspring of Big Brown who won the Kentucky Derby in 2008, my first Derby. I have a soft spot for the offspring of horses I've seen win.
I just watched the race and boy howdy! Rise Up was impressive! He took the lead early on, kept it and then just about caught fire coming down the stretch! Nobody came close to catching up to him. If he can keep racing like that, I'll bet on him the first Saturday in May.
Rise Up's win in the Delta Downs Jackpot gave him 10 points. He's tied for third place on the leader board with New Year's Day, We Miss Artie, and Cleburne. But the Kentucky Derby is still 159 days away (I may or may not have an app on my phone that keeps track of that for me) and so much can (and will!) change in that time.
Until next time, Derby fans!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

How to get Kentucky Derby tickets

It's actually not that hard to get tickets to the Kentucky Derby! They're not cheap and you won't get the best seats unless you take out a loan with a mob boss but they are available to every day people.

General Admission
The cheapest way to get into Churchill Downs on Derby day is to buy general admission tickets. These tickets are $30 for the Oaks and $50 for the Derby. You can walk up to the gate and buy them the day of the event. There's no need to purchase them in advance. General admission tickets will get you into the paddock area and the infield- you won't have an assigned seat or even a view of the track. You'll have access to betting windows, the gift shop and food/drink vendors. Just be aware of what goes on in the infield.  It's a drunken mess complete with people racing on top of the port-o-potties, mud wrestling, vomiting and those creepy horse masks. If I had to do general admission, I'd get in line early, bring a camping chair and settle down in the paddock area.
 Mud wrestling in the infield.
Count me out. 

Through Churchill Downs
The next cheapest way to get Kentucky Derby tickets is to get them through Churchill Downs. The day after the Kentucky Derby, has a form you can fill out to get tickets. This link is good till some time in the fall. In November they'll send you a link to the "pre-sale" where you buy tickets at face value. Not every section is available in the sale in November and sometimes they add on some "extras" that you might not want. This year they sold 6-seat boxes in section 325 that included 6 tickets to Taste of the Derby. Last year Taste of Derby tickets were $300 each so that automatically jacked up the price of the box by at least $1800. Even though I really wanted to sit in that section, I didn't want to pay that much off the bat for a box, especially if it meant I might be stuck with $1800 worth of ToD tickets that I couldn't get rid of.
Anyway, tickets through the Churchill Downs sale are good for two days of racing- the Kentucky Oaks on Friday and the Kentucky Derby on Saturday. So if you're reading this between November and April, you've missed the window of opportunity and you'll have to go through other avenues.

Ticket Brokers
The next cheapest way to get Kentucky Derby tickets is through Stub Hub, eBay or other ticket scalpers brokers. Prices will be at least double what face value is and tickets to Oaks and Derby are sold separately but there is a bigger selection of sections than what is offered through Churchill Downs.

Craigs List
Another option is to try on Louisville's CraigsList. Prices are all over the place, at least at the time of this writing. Some tickets seem to be on par with StubHub, others are way more expensive. Definitely do your research before you get out your credit card.

Finally, you can buy a Derby Experience through Churchill Downs. You get a complete package with a hotel room, transportation to the track, celebrity jockey appearance, lunch buffet, gift bag and either a cash bar or open bar. If you're scratching the Kentucky Derby off your bucket list and don't want to worry about little details, this might be for you. This link also offers tickets without the hotel accommodations, if you already have somewhere to crash in Louisville.I assume you still get the lunch buffet, gift bag, etc.

If you have any other ideas on how to get tickets to the Kentucky Derby, let me know!And if you need any advice on where to sit or how to get the best seat for your money, feel free to ask! I love talking derby.
 The following is old info from my planning for the 2014 KY Derby but someone might find it useful in their own research:

As of April 13th, there are still tickets available through Churchill Downs! They still have tickets in section 110 at this link. They offer trackside and uncovered seats for $698 and covered seats for $799. This includes "full food and beverage hospitality" and includes tickets to the Oaks on Friday. However, I did some research and found two negative reviews of section 110 from 2013. One says the food was hot dogs and chips and they waited in line for 30-40 minutes for drinks and toilets were port-o-potties. Another complains of inadequate staffing and long waits at betting windows and you couldn't see the tote board.
Keep in mind, 2013 was the first year they had section 110 and I'm sure it was a learning experience for Churchill Downs. The link to tickets above touts "expanded aisles, betting windows, and restrooms" so they're aware of last year's problems and are making improvements. And, yeah, port-o-potties are a way of life at the Kentucky Derby. It's not ideal but you get in, hold your breath, do your business and get out. I'd rather be in and out of a port-o-potty in 2 minutes than wait in line for 20 just so I can flush.

 StubHub Update as of 3/12/14! Ticket prices are falling! I have kept track of ticket prices in sections 324 and 223 since the beginning of January.  For section 324, ticket prices were steady at $951 per ticket in January and February (when I say "ticket prices" I mean lowest found on StubHub). Last week, the lowest price was $806 and today they're down to $764. Prices for the Oaks in that section have also fallen from $277 to $225. Prices also fell for section 223. Prices for the Derby went from $582 to $472. Prices for the Oaks haven't fallen as dramatically. In fact they've gone from $159 to $180 to $166 to today's price of $175. Last year I only kept track of prices in 324. Prices started to fall in early March and continued to fall until mid April. The highest price was $852 in early January and lowest was $659 April 18th (that $659 price was only on there for 2 days, max. It went up to $733 two days later). Keep in mind actual tickets are not shipped until the first week of April so no matter when you buy your tickets, you won't have them in your hand till around the second week of April.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

How I fell in love with the Kentucky Derby

I'd love to tell you that I've been watching the Derby since I was 4 years old or my grandfather trained racehorses but quite honestly, my first memory of watching the Derby was in 2000.  I was at a friend's house in college (college was University of Missouri,  house was the legendary 1609) and someone turned it on.  We watched them sing My Old Kentucky Home and I loved seeing the hats and the celebrities. But I was a bit let down by the actual race- it really IS only two minutes long!  It was so cool watching the horses- I wanted it to last a little longer.
Fast forward to 2008, my aunt and uncle, who go to the Derby every year,  called and asked if my husband and I wanted to go with them. I like going to Fairmount Park, the dumpy little track near St. Louis and it seemed like a great opportunity so we did the math on what it would cost and agreed to go! I bought a dress and hat, Mark bought a seersucker suit and we were off to the races! Oh, we had a ball!  The people watching was outstanding!  I felt like a million bucks in my dress and hat! Mark was absolutely dashing in his seersucker! We didn't win any money (and spent a ton) but we had a blast. We were bitten by the Derby bug.
We went in 2009 to see Mine That Bird come from behind. We saw Animal Kingdom win in 2011. We witnessed I'll Have Another's victory in 2012. We braved the rain in 2013 to see Orb win the roses. We cannot wait to see who wins in 2014!
As for 2010, we had to take that year off to have a baby. He was due May 5th but since I have gigantic babies and he was to arrive via c-section, we got to choose his birthday. We went with April 29th so his birthday would never interfere with future Kentucky Derby trips. Two days after having a baby, I wrote down my bets and sent Mark across the river to an off track betting place. We don't mess around when it comes to the Kentucky Derby!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A little bit about me

My name is Annie. I'm 30-something. I live in St. Louis, MO and I'm married to an awesome guy who loves the Derby almost as much as I do. We have 2 boys who are six and three. I'm trying to slowly get them into horse racing. When I was watching the Breeder's Cup, my three year old watched a couple races with me and I took the chance to teach him a few things like turf vs. grass and what the gate is. Gotta start small so he doesn't get overwhelmed. I think if my kids can handicap a race by the time they're 16, I will have done something right. Unless they go all Brandon Walsh and end up with a gambling problem.
I love the Derby. I love handicapping and watching the prep races. I love planning our trip. I love shopping for the perfect hat, dress and shoes (and jewelry and purse and special handicapping pens). I love walking up to Churchill Downs and seeing the twin spires. I love seeing the guy dressed up at Col. Sanders every year. I love all things Kentucky Derby.
So that's who I am. Who I am not is a serious, year round gambler. I'm too cheap for that and Fairmount Park, the race track just outside of STL, is pretty crummy. If Santa Anita is a shiny BMW, Fairmount is a used Hyumdai Elantra. One with a rear panel that doesn't match the rest of the car and it only has 2 hubcaps. I'd be surprised of there was a horse there this summer with a Beyer speed rating over 60. I've seen horses with negative speed ratings over there. I don't even know how that's possible! And while I can find my way around a DRF past performance sheet, I don't know anything about track bias or time splits. If that's what you came for, head on over to the forums at Pace For me, it seems like I have the same luck whether I handicap a race or pick a winner because I like the name. I won $85 on last year's Kentucky Oaks by betting on Princess Sylmar simply because my favorite jockey, Mike Smith, was riding. That was a pretty awesome ticket to cash.
Stick around if you want to explore Derby contenders, prep races, fashion and travel tips. It should be a good time!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

We're headed to our 6th Kentucky Derby


Today we (my husband and I) scored tickets to the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby to be held May 3, 2014. This will be our 6th trip to the Kentucky Derby.
Average people CAN get tickets to the Derby. Churchill Downs starts accepting requests for tickets the day after the Derby and you have until October 31 to get your request in. All you have to do is enter your email address. You don't have to enter a credit card number or promise your firstborn child or anything nutso, just enter your email address. Then in November you'll get a link to the site where you can buy tickets. This morning I had two laptops fired up, my credit card out, a movie on for my three year old, and a sandwich premade on the bottom shelf of the fridge in case he got hungry.  I also had my husband on the phone at work because he was trying to get tickets too. We both got right into the system- I was offered section 222, row F and he was offered section 223, row A. We went with section 223, row A. Even though section 222 would be closer to the finish line, we went with section 223 so we could be in the front row.
We had great luck this year, I will admit that. There was one year I was stuck in the dreaded "virtual waiting room" for an hour and had to settle for seats in section 128. But, hey, seeing the Derby from section 128 is a helluva lot better than watching it from my couch!

Welcome to my Kentucky Derby blog!

In this blog, I plan on writing about all things Derby- horses, jockeys, prep races, hats, dresses, suits, mint juleps.  I'll also include travel information and tips. I also want to show that you don't have to be ultra rich to afford a trip to the Derby. It's definitely not cheap but it doesn't have to cost $5,000 either.
Thanks for sharing my excitement for the "most exciting two minutes" in sports. I'm planning on stretching my excitement out for 172 days!