It’s almost the first Saturday in May, which means we’re soon off to the races for the 150th running of the Kentucky Derby! Last year we showed you how to host your own Derby party at home;  this year, we’ve decided to lean into our equine theme and give you tips for entertaining at the stable. After all, you’ll be surrounded by like-minded horse lovers, and horses. Can’t get more authentic than that.

No need to stress over it either ‒ a barn party can be as casual as you want. People can dismount and join in the festivities, or else you can enforce a stricter dress code of sundresses and fascinators or barn colours designed into makeshift jockey silks. And you don’t even need a television in the barn to make this the party of the year; all it requires is a laptop, tablet, or cell phone to watch coverage, or radio to listen to the big race.

Here’s our guide for hosting a horsey hoedown in your tack room, paddock, or indoor arena.

WHEN: The 150th Kentucky Derby busts out of the starting gate at 6:57 pm ET on Saturday May 4th (cue Star Wars “May the 4th Be with You” jokes). While the Derby is an evening race, the television coverage begins at 2:30 on NBC, and includes interesting profiles of the horses, owners, trainers, and jockeys (and lots of celeb sightings!).

How to Watch or Listen to the Kentucky Derby


A horse racing in the Florida Derby.

Will Florida Derby winner Fierceness win the Derby? (Gulfstream Park photo)

The Favourites

This year, the top favourites are Fierceness (who won the Florida Derby in record-breaking time) and Sierra Leone, although Catching Freedom, Forever Young, Dornoch and Honor Marie are also ones to watch. Some are picking longshot Resilience, who currently sits at 25-1. Check out our sister publication Canadian Thoroughbred as they look at the contenders leading up to the race.

If you want to do some actual betting, you can sign up for a HPIbet account for real wagering excitement.

Derby Trivia Quiz

For all things Derby, read up on the Kentucky Derby Museum website for interesting factoids. It will be great research for when you play our Top Ten Derby Trivia Questions at your party before the big race. You’re all horse people, shouldn’t you know all this stuff by now?

1. What two Canadian horses have won the Kentucky Derby?
2. What horse holds the record for the fastest Derby: bonus point for the time.
3. What horse won the first ever Kentucky Derby in 1875?
4. What was the name of the first Kentucky Derby-winning jockey?
5. How many horses have won the Triple Crown?
6. What was the first horse to win the Triple Crown?
7. What was the last horse to win the Triple Crown?
8. Why is the Kentucky Derby known as the “run for the roses?”
9. How many fillies have won the Kentucky Derby and what were their names?
10. Name the three races in the Canadian Triple Crown,

ANSWERS: 1) Northern Dancer and Sunny’s Halo 2) Secretariat 1:50:4 3) Aristides 4) Oliver Lewis, an African American and formerly enslaved man 5) Thirteen 6) Sir Barton 7) Justify 8) because a “lush blanket of 554 red roses is awarded to the winner 9) Three: Regret, Genuine Risk, and Winning Colors 10) King’s Plate, Prince of Wales, Breeders’ Stakes

What to Eat & Drink

A mint julep.

The classic Mint Julep is a Derby staple. (


This cocktail is the official workhorse of the Derby. It’s a refreshing combo of mint, simple syrup, and Kentucky bourbon (what else?), served in a metal cup – either pewter or silver. The original cups were sterling silver and are considered a staple in American southern homes. If you want to buy the real deal there are several websites that offer a prime selection including this one from the Oldani Brothers. But given most barns are equipped with a variety of chipped ceramic mugs or plastic beer cups, we think you can safely improvise.

As for what goes inside, we still stand by this recipe from for its simplicity. But if you’re abstaining, or are serving teens or kids, this virgin julep from the Mindful Mocktail uses ginger ale and is a refreshing and tasty choice.


Given you’re entertaining at the barn, food needs to be easy and if possible, potluck. Anything goes, really. Shrimp cocktail or devilled eggs anyone? But classic southern dishes are a fun thing to make, especially since they aren’t all that common in Canada. There’s the Kentucky favourite called The Hot Brown,  an opened-faced turkey sandwich with Mornay sauce that was created by the Brown Hotel in Louisville.

A slice of pecan pie.

Pecan pie yum! (nzaykov/Pixabay)

If that’s too fussy, you can’t go wrong with Pimento Cheese Dip,  an elegant and zingy concoction that goes great with baguettes or crackers. It’s a mix of cream cheese, mayo, and yes, pimentos. It’s been called both the “pâté” and the “caviar” of the South. You can also elevate the spread by making tea sandwiches (crusts removed) for an elegant bite. If you have vegans on your guest list, opt for this version so they can indulge alongside everyone else.

Another classic Kentucky dip is the Benedictine Spread,  which is also made with cream cheese and mayo but opts for cucumber, dill, and lemon juice. Great with cut veggies!

Other finger foods like fried chicken, or slow cooker pulled pork or chicken for a DIY sandwich bar all work. What you can’t forget is dessert. Pecan pie is a natural fit, a southern sweet that can be made with bourbon to keep the Kentucky spirit going. This recipe from Food & Wine is called a Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie  and can be served hot or cold.

A woman wearing a Derby hat.

(Booth Kates/Pixabay)

What to Wear

This will depend on the vibe of your barn and riding friends. Some may want to ride first, then saunter into the tack room in breeches and boots (we love this idea), or others will arrive fresh as a daisy and wearing a floral print dress. We say to each their own. But one thing that shouldn’t be optional is headgear. For the Kentucky Derby, just like Royal Ascot or the King’s Plate (formerly the Queen’s Plate), high hats and fascinators are a must and one way to show your wild side.

If you’re creative, you can make your own hat or fascinator. The blog Style Blueprint has a fabulous how-to for DIY Derby headgear.

Or head to Michael’s or other crafty stores and find feathers, netting, glitter, whatever you want, and use a ballcap or hairband if you must improvise last-minute.

Even around the barn you’ll likely find colourful polos, vet wrap, or what-have-you with which you can create some DIY “silks” and get a laugh or two as well. It’s a barn party, so have fun with it.

And they’re off!