How to Throw the Perfect Kentucky Derby Party

You can bet on a good time at this Kentucky Derby party. Pastel embellishments, homemade mint juleps and a themed game make for thoroughbred fun.

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Treat ’em to Pecan Tarts

For a little sweetness on Derby Day, serve vanilla-kissed pecan tarts. (For bonus points, top each nutty morsel with a spoonful of homemade bourbon whipped cream.) If you prefer a full-size cake, bake up this authentic Kentucky bourbon Bundt for the event.

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kentucky derby party food and decorations
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Set the Scene

Pastels, seersucker fabric and floral patterns are race-day essentials. Incorporate them into your Kentucky Derby party decor via serving ware, napkins, tablecloths and more. And for the finishing touch, unfurl a faux grass table runner down the center of your Derby Day buffet spread as a nod to the lush lawns of Churchill Downs.

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Kentucky Derby Ribbon Banner, kentucky derby party decorations
Courtesy Design Improvised

DIY Your Derby Decor

Welcome guests with a gorgeous garland like this one from Design Improvised. Of course, it’s fitting for your Southern soiree, but the best part is that it’s so easy to make yourself. All you need is festive party fans, ribbon and a hole punch. And you’re off!

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Beautiful Arrangement Of Envelope Ribbon And White Flowers
lenta/Getty Images

Send Out Invitations

Invitations set the tone for a party. They let you know what to expect and give you hints about the theme. Want guests to bring something? Want them to dress for the occasion? Let them know in a way that’s fun and to the point.

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Kentucky Derby Hat
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Dress to Impress

Channel your inner Southerner and don a chic chapeau. On race day, women commonly wear coordinating pastel hats or fascinators, dresses, bags, shoes and even parasols. Men make their mark with vibrant suits or blazers, ties, horsebit loafers and hats of their own. To really feel like you’re at Churchill Downs, ask partygoers to dress accordingly.

These pretty pink desserts will perfectly match the dress code.

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light green roses for kentucky derby party
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Incorporate Roses

Fun fact: Roses are the official flower of the Kentucky Derby because the winning jockey and horse are famously adorned in them. (This is also how the Derby earned its other moniker: Run for the Roses.) Pick your favorite rose color, then fill a vase with them or, if you’re feeling ambitious, make a wreath.

Prefer edible blossoms? Try our recipe for Chocolate-Dipped Strawberry Meringue Roses!

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three golden horse ornaments, Stable-Inspired Decorations
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Set Out Stable-Inspired Decorations

You can’t have a Kentucky Derby party without horses…or at least horse figurines. Spray paint a set of miniatures for extra fun. Let them graze on the table among the dishes, atop cake stands and along the table runner.

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A Glass of Mint Julep
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Build a Mint Julep Bar

One of the indisputable Kentucky Derby food traditions is having a mint julep: a cocktail made with bourbon, mint and simple syrup, served on the rocks. During race weekend in May, more than 120,000 mint juleps are sold at Churchill Downs. Set out a serving tray with the quintessential ingredients as well as crushed ice, glasses and stirrers.

Don’t stop there! Go all out with a Kentucky Derby cocktails bar where your guests are sure to find a drink they’ll love.

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A Bowl of Benedictine Spread on a Ceramic Tray with Green Salad and Breads
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Bring on the Benedictine Spread

Mint juleps aren’t the only thing on the menu. Classic dishes native to Kentucky, like Benedictine spread, have become staples of race day. Made with cream cheese, dill, onion, cucumber and, occasionally, green food dye, this fresh dip is delish with bread, crackers and veggies.

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Kentucky Hot Brown Sliders in a Deep Tray
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Serve Kentucky Hot Brown Sliders

If there’s one thing Kentuckians know how to do, it’s make comfort food. Inspired by the iconic open-faced Kentucky Hot Brown, which was first created at Louisville’s Brown Hotel, these Kentucky Hot Brown sliders are loaded with turkey, bacon, pimientos and cheese. Pair ’em with one (or more!) of the best Kentucky Derby appetizers.

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bunch of folded papers in an upside-down kentucky derby hat
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Pick a Winner

Every Kentucky Derby party needs an activity. Have attendees pick from a bowler hat or fedora a numbered piece of paper randomly assigned to a racehorse. Whoever selects the winning horse’s number wins a prize at the party’s end. Any of these irresistible edible party favors will do, or let the champ take home the hat used for the drawing.

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a glass of pink rhubarb punch
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Offer a Nonalcoholic Beverage

Have guests sit back and relax with one of these nonalcoholic spring drinks. Put this Pink Rhubarb Punch in a gorgeous cocktail glass and it’ll be the talk of the party—besides the race, of course. Make sure there are plenty of Kentucky Derby desserts to go with the sippers.

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Kentucky Derby Live Stream on tv
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Set up a Derby Stream

Feel the excitement of watching the race by setting up a livestream. You can find the race on NBCSports.com, but make sure the livestream is up and running before the party begins. Since the race goes by so fast, set a timer so you and your guests don’t miss a thing!

Annamarie Higley
Annamarie is Taste of Home’s Shopping Editor and previously worked on the brand’s magazine and special issues. It was during this time she tapped into her love language, gifts, and spearheaded the print holiday gift guides in 2021 and 2022. She’s thrilled to continue creating gift guides full time for the shopping team, in addition to testing and reviewing products, spotlighting viral gadgets and editing freelanced content. A midwestern transplant from the San Francisco Bay Area, she enjoys hiking, crafting and—you guessed it!—shopping and cooking.