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Where to sit at the Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby is unique and often misunderstood. It’s not just for horse enthusiasts or only for sports fans. Derby weekend is a party for any and all types of groups, and Derby day is an all-day event. But where should you sit?

There are 14 different races on Derby Day, with 30-45 minutes in between each race, so where you sit determines a lot about your experience. Bring your friends and soak in the atmosphere. It is an amazing day of conversation, fashion, people watching, wagering, eating, drinking, and cheering. Churchill Downs is a historic and complex venue, with many different sections, dining rooms, and amenities. We have Kentucky-based staff and can recommend a track seating area to fit your group.

Where to sit at the Kentucky Derby

Budget-minded group of recent college grads, just trying to get in the door

The 1st floor grandstand offers reserved seats and an up-close view of the top of the stretch. The depth perception isn’t great and you are on bleachers, but at least it isn’t the infield. Let’s get this out of the way. No one should go to the infield. The weather in Louisville on the first Saturday in May is usually wet or hot or both. The infield is a nasty mess.

Looking for a fun experience, but not a covered premium view

The 1st floor clubhouse is similar to the grandstand, but closer to the finish line and configured as chair back seats within railed-in, open-air “boxes.” Ignore sections 111-112 and focus on 113-120. As they bring the horses out onto the track, you really get a sense for the size and majesty of these horses. A lot of horse trainers and owners sit in this area. Because it is a long day in fickle weather, having seats under cover is usually preferable, but the cover is better on the third floor. The ceilings are low on the first floor, like watching from a dugout where you can’t see the sky. Rows J and higher are covered in section 113, and rows G and higher are under cover in 114-117.

Where to sit at the Kentucky Derby

Value hunters

Higher levels offer a better view of the track, and Derby tickets are limited to your seating area and the floors beneath. You have access to go down a level, but not up. The 3rd floor grandstand is a solid value, with more depth perception than the lower floors and views of the stretch, but not a good view of the finish line. Don’t let the grandstand label fool you; these are open-air, railed-in boxes of chair back seats. Row C is partially covered, and rows D and higher are under cover.

Our recommended Derby experience, and probably what you are picturing

The 3rd floor clubhouse is the sweet spot and our preferred area. If your image or fantasy about the Derby is getting all dressed up, this is where you want to be. It’s what you’ve probably seen on tv. Better views of the finish, men in suits and ladies in big hats, some celebrity sightings in the clubhouse or the turf terrace behind, these seats are our favorite Derby experience. As in some other areas, these are open-air, railed-in boxes of chairback seats with partial cover in row C and full cover rows D and higher. 

Mingle with celebrities in an all-inclusive dining room

The Turf Club is the place to see and be seen. Some musicians, actresses, and NFL stars are usually around placing bets and watching the racing action from this indoor oasis. Nowhere else will you find such an eclectic group from different genres. This is where the celebrities come to find each other. You will not have a view of the track unless you go to the front of the room by the windows during the races. Several other rooms have been combined into the Turf Club, with different ticket options, including Turf Club Boxes, Tables, Balcony, and Walkaround passes. Typically dining rooms are the only areas of the track that come with food and drink included. Due to Covid, that has changed in 2021 and we will see how Churchill Downs proceeds moving forward.

Indoor dining at a lower price

Located above the 3rd floor, the Starting Gate is a newer area of the track that not many people have seen, but it is a modern experience with dining rooms, suites, and a rooftop. You have to go out to balconies to view the track, but the interior of the room is nicer and less crowded than Millionaires Row or Skye Terrace.

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