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, ChurchillDowns.com 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.
The next cheapest way to get Kentucky Derby tickets is through Stub Hub, eBay or other ticket
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.