The Kentucky Derby is one of the best loved sporting events in the south and it’s always known for inspiring some incredible parties.

There’s no need to make the trip to Churchill Downs for all the Derby fun. This May, you can host your own Run for the Roses soiree for a true race-day extravaganza! And what’s really great is that because it’s the “Greatest Two Minutes in Sports,” you won’t spend the entire time watching the tube, which leaves plenty of room for party fun!

Get free Derby-themed invitations online and ask your guests to dress in their Southern best to set the tone for the party. Think seersucker suits and bow ties, pretty dresses and elegant hats.

Transform your home with pennant banners of red paper triangles strung on ribbon. Cover your tables with brightly colored linens and small horse figurines or trophies from a dollar store, and of course when choosing flowers, you’ve got to go for red roses.

Create grand, yet simple topiaries with topiary forms or foam balls you can get at a craft store. Fill them with tightly packed blooms and boom … you’ve got a gorgeous centerpiece. You can also use traditional silver julep cups as containers for small red rose bouquets.

If you want to really go all out, make a large horseshoe-shaped centerpiece or wall decoration with red silk roses to really evoke the race vibe. You can even order official programs online so guests feel like they’re really at the races!

What to Serve for Derby Day

First things first, you’ve got to have a mint julep on the menu. Classically served in sterling silver cups, you can also present them in small glass or plastic tumblers. For a simple recipe, muddle six or seven fresh mint leaves in a tablespoon of simple syrup. Add 2 ounces of Kentucky bourbon and serve over crushed ice with a mint sprig.

Usually, you’d make them individually but if you’re serving a crowd, make a large batch and present it in a pretty drink dispenser. For the non-imbibers, offer pitchers of Southern-style “sweet tea” and lemonade.

To create the perfect Derby Day menu, think Southern cooking: barbecued ribs or even a simple platter of country ham and biscuits with a variety of mustards and chutneys to give your party a rustic down home feel. Or if you want to take it up a notch, serve tea sandwiches on ladylike trays with a pretty platter of shrimp or crudité on the side. Wanna keep it super simple? Order a few buckets of KFC and embrace the kitsch of it all!

For dessert try pecan pie or bourbon truffles, or cover a cupcake stand with red roses and serve cupcakes decorated with little plastic ponies on top.

Finishing Touches 

Put on a bluegrass or Dixieland mix and greet guests with a julep and red rose corsage. The actual race is over in a flash, so here are a few Derby-inspired ideas to help you keep everyone entertained:

  • Post a board with the odds for each horse and take bets (or have guests pick ponies out of a hat)
  • Keep the theme going after the race by screening Sea Biscuit, The Black Stallion, or Flicka
  • Ask guests to vote & give out prizes for the best Derby wear, craziest hat, and perfect southern drawl
  • If the kids are coming, call a local farm and have a pony come over for the day
  • Horseshoes, Cornhole and other outside games are always a hit
  • Create your own “Run for the Roses” team relay race by passing a bunch of (thornless!) roses back and forth under chins
  • Pick up stick horses and have the kiddies run their own Derby (betting on your favorite pony is up to you!)

Derby Day is always a blast and once you host your first party, you just might find that you’ve got a new yearly tradition. Have fun and don’t forget to take lots of pics and share them with me on my Facebook page!

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