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The 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby is Saturday. Watching the greatest two minutes in sports on TV is exciting, but experiencing it in person is unlike anything else in the world — and takes preparation to do the right way.
I've been to 17 Derbys, and learned more than a few lessons the hard way. Let me help you avoid my mistakes and then ... Go Baby Go!
Do not try to drive into the Churchill Downs parking lot unless you have a pre-assigned parking spot. Even then, I don't recommend it. As you near the track, the streets will be lined with people wielding cardboard signs offering parking at various costs. The lot is their front yard, and many ask you to leave your keys. Just do it. Don't go for the $10 parking; you'll regret it as you trudge back at the end of the day. The $50 spots will get you much closer, and they're worth it.
Even better than driving could be using Uber. The company is beefing up its Louisville operations for the big event and has teamed up with Churchill Downs. Use promo code DERBY2016 for a free first ride up to $15. There will be designated pickup locations after the race so be sure you scope them out before.
Bring lots of it. Parking requires cash, drink vendors require cash, most betting requires cash. Bring more than you think you'll need. Spending an hour or so in line to use one of the few ATMs is not a wise use of time on Derby Day.
Get in line before you need to use the facilities. Bladder anticipation is difficult to master, but you'll be better off once you do. Even in many of the more expensive sections, you can expect a longer-than-average wait.
If you must wear heels, then you really should bring along flats to change into. Even if you have the best seats in the house, you'll be standing and walking all day.
Bonus tip: Purses larger than 12 inches are not allowed, so plan accordingly for your shoes. Also not allowed: coolers, cans, cameras with detachable lenses, outside alcohol (don't worry, they have plenty inside), backpacks, umbrellas and selfie sticks.
"What time are you going to Derby?" "What are you wearing to Derby?" Drop "the" unless you're talking about the race itself. "Who are you picking to win The Derby?" You'll be able to tell who the locals are by their lack of "the."
Only the horses will be sprinting. It's different for you. Repeat this mantra: "This is a marathon, not a sprint. This is a marathon, not a sprint." Get there early and soak up all the fun you can. The gates open at 8 a.m. The first race goes off at 10:30 a.m. The actual Derby race isn't until 6:34 p.m ET. The big crowds generally arrive around 11 a.m. The last race of the day isn't until 8:05 p.m. ET.
If you hem and haw all day listening to "hot tips" and changing your mind, you'll go against your gut and could regret it. Or, even worse, you could forget to make the bet! How will you feel if your horse comes in then?
You can bet on all the other races throughout the day. There are a total of 14 scheduled at Churchill Downs for Derby Day. (Note: "MTP" on the screens stands for "Minutes to Post." That's how much time you have to bet before the next race.)
It's tradition (which is what Southerners lean on for doing all sorts of fun things). But mint juleps are very sweet, and stronger than they taste. Too many juleps never ends well. One is an easy limit to remember.
Buy a program and get to it. Minimum bet is $2. When you get to the window, say the number of the race, the dollar amount, the type of wager and the horse(s) number(s). If you're making multiple bets, say this whole script for each bet.
For example: "In the sixth race—2 dollars—to win—on the 6." Write them down on your program in that order so you can rattle off your bets at the window. This can be a high-pressure situation — arrive at the window prepared.
If you've never bet on a horse race before but are looking for something a little more adventurous, go for a "trifecta." That means you're trying to pick the first, second and third place horses in a race — in order. That bet will cost at least $6. If you like three horses and want to bet on them to "win" "place" and "show" in any order, that bet is called a "trifecta box."
Another bonus tip: Don't throw your ticket away until the race results are final. Many a photo finish has sent grown men crawling on the ground in search of a winning ticket they thought was a loser.
Just do it. You'll regret it if you don't. Men: You don't have to go for the full seersucker suit and hat, but at least put on something flashy or bright. That's part of what makes Derby so fun!
And a final bonus tip: It's still not too late! You can walk right up to the gate at Churchill Downs on Derby Day, pay $60, and you're in! This general admission ticket grants you access to the paddock, where the horses walk before every race, as well as the infamous infield.
If you can't go Saturday, you can watch the coverage on NBC.