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Infield Tips for the Kentucky Derby – First-Timer’s Guide

Published on: May 9, 2023

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

Attending the Kentucky Derby has always been on my bucket list, and this year, I finally made it a reality. As a first-time visitor, I was unsure what to expect, but the experience surpassed all of my expectations. From the festive atmosphere to the exciting horse races, the entire day was nothing short of extraordinary.

Navigating this iconic event as a newcomer was both exhilarating and challenging. There were aspects I hadn’t anticipated, such as the fluctuating crowd dynamics and the need to plan for various weather conditions. In this blog post, I’ll be sharing my insights and infield tips for other first-time attendees, making your visit to the Kentucky Derby as enjoyable as possible.

From parking and seating to betting and attire, I’ll guide you through my personal experience, shedding light on what to expect and how to make the most of your day at the races. So, saddle up and join me as I recount my unforgettable journey through the infield of the legendary Kentucky Derby.

Navigating the Parking Scene

We set out from our hotel at 7:00 am, and by 7:20 am, we had arrived at the track without any issues. Along the way, we noticed many people offering parking spaces in their yards. While parking on the road is not advisable, private houses provide a convenient alternative.

We opted to park at one such private residence, which charged us $30.00. The prices we observed for similar options ranged from as low as $20.00 to as high as $100.00. Choosing a private parking spot not only provided a safe space for our vehicle but also allowed for a seamless arrival experience at the Kentucky Derby.

breakfast edited scaled
Breakfast at Wagners

Arrival and Breakfast

My day at the Kentucky Derby began bright and early, as I arrived around 7:30 am and went straight to Wagner’s for breakfast. Its location, directly across from the entry gate, made it the perfect spot to grab a bite before the event.

While it took a considerable amount of time for our food to arrive, I couldn’t help but notice the growing line outside the venue. I started to worry about being late for the gates opening, but my concerns were unfounded. As soon as the gates opened, there was no wait, and we were able to walk in without any delay. The experience taught me that even with a busy breakfast spot like Wagner’s, there’s no need to rush or stress about getting into the Kentucky Derby on time.

Infield Seating Insights: From Tunnels to Prime Viewing Spots

Upon entering the venue, I passed through a tunnel that went beneath the racetrack and led to the infield. To my surprise, there were reserved areas in the infield featuring coverings and excellent views. Although I’m unsure of the cost, such a setup would undoubtedly be ideal on a rainy day.

Arriving early proved advantageous, as it allowed me to find the perfect spot for my chair right next to the fence at the far turn. With most people not showing up until midday, there was an abundance of available space. By planning my arrival strategically, I was able to secure prime seating for an unforgettable day at the races.

Packing Essentials for Comfort and Convenience

Since I intended to spend the entire day at the races, I came prepared with essential items to ensure my comfort and convenience. I brought folding chairs, bottled water, fruit, nuts, and other snacks. While alcohol is not permitted, food and drinks are allowed as long as they are packed in a see-through container.

It’s essential to consider the cost of on-site refreshments, which can be quite pricey. For example, my friends paid $17.00 for a mint julep and $12.00 for a lemonade. By bringing your own snacks and beverages, you can save money and focus on enjoying the thrilling atmosphere of the Kentucky Derby.

Attire Recommendations: Balancing Comfort and Style

At the Kentucky Derby, you’ll find many attendees dressed up, with men sporting bowties and hats while women don fancy hats and dresses. Despite the prevalent dressy attire, I chose a more comfortable outfit – shorts, a t-shirt, and a hat – and didn’t feel out of place at all. The atmosphere is festive and welcoming, so there’s no need to stress about your attire.

However, it’s essential to consider potential weather changes, as you’ll be at the event all day. Our day started cloudy, turned sunny, and then transitioned to rain. In hindsight, I wish I had packed a rain poncho. Remember to prepare for various weather conditions to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable day at the races.

Picture of the laid back crowd at the Kentucky Derby infield.
Picture of the crowd at Churchhill Downs infield.

A Pleasant Surprise: The Laid-Back Crowd

Before attending the Kentucky Derby, I was expecting a rowdy and boisterous crowd, similar to my experiences at numerous Mardi Gras Parades and Jazz Festivals. To my pleasant surprise, the atmosphere at the Derby was laid-back and relaxed.

While it’s true that plenty of people indulge in drinks, most who overindulge simply lay down and sleep it off. I didn’t witness any trouble or rowdiness among the attendees, which made for an enjoyable experience. The worst incident I observed was a man who appeared to be feeling unwell, making his way toward the restrooms.

In addition, I found that everyone was very friendly and knowledgeable about horse racing. I engaged in numerous conversations with multiple people about trainers, horses, and tracks. This friendly atmosphere and shared passion for horse racing further enhanced my experience at the Kentucky Derby, making it a truly memorable day.

Picture of a turf race.  One of the most important Infield tips, sit next to the fence.
Picture from my seat.

Mastering the Betting Game

Navigating the betting booths at the Kentucky Derby can be challenging, especially as the day progresses. For the first couple of races, placing bets was a breeze, but soon the lines grew incredibly long. Despite joining the queue 15 minutes prior to post, I missed making a bet.

To overcome this obstacle, I decided to download a betting app and wager using my phone, which proved to be a fantastic decision. Ultimately, I hit a couple of races and walked away over $300 ahead! By embracing technology, I was able to enhance my betting experience and fully enjoy the excitement of the Kentucky Derby.

Picture of the crowd from the infield of the Churchill Downs.
Right before the big race.

Embracing the Excitement: A Memorable Day at the Races

Despite the growing crowd, I had no trouble enjoying the races, even managing to get up close for the turf events. The atmosphere was lively and festive, allowing me to fully immerse myself in this unforgettable experience. However, as the main race of the day approached, people began crowding towards the fences, and I found myself about twenty people deep when the race started.

Fortunately, as soon as the race concluded, the crowd dispersed quickly, making it easy to move about once more. The ability to adapt and navigate the shifting dynamics of the event allowed me to savor every moment and create lasting memories of my day at the Kentucky Derby.

Restroom Relief: Clean and Accessible

One concern many people have when attending large-scale events, like the Kentucky Derby, is the availability and cleanliness of restroom facilities. I’m happy to report that, based on my experience, the restrooms at the Kentucky Derby exceeded my expectations.

Throughout the event, I found that there were plenty of bathrooms available, which helped to prevent long waiting lines. This was particularly important for my wife and daughter, who had concerns about restroom accessibility during the day.

In terms of cleanliness, the facilities were well-maintained for the most part. While there were a few instances where the restrooms could have used some attention, overall, I was impressed with how well-kept they were, considering the massive crowd in attendance.

The clean and accessible restrooms at the Kentucky Derby contributed to a more enjoyable experience, allowing me to focus on the excitement of the races and the festive atmosphere without worrying about basic amenities.

Picture of the crowd when we are trying to leave after the Kentucky Derby.
Stuck trying to exit.

Preparing for Departure: Navigating a Chaotic Exit

Leaving the infield proved to be quite challenging. We found ourselves stuck in a line for over 45 minutes, with people pushing and shoving to get to the tunnel. While this may have been exacerbated by the approaching rain, I was informed that this type of exit chaos occurs every year.

To ensure a smoother departure from the Kentucky Derby, it’s crucial to be prepared for the potential chaos and plan your exit strategy accordingly. By anticipating the crowds and having a plan in place, you can navigate your way out with greater ease and finish your day on a positive note.


In summary, attending the Kentucky Derby is an incredible experience, and I highly recommend it to anyone considering going. Remember to be prepared, take your time, and enjoy every moment – armed with these infield tips, you’re sure to have a fantastic day at one of the biggest horse races in the world!