A. a magical event where rich people and celebrities dress up in fancy hats and dapper suits and sit in sparkling grandstands while betting on Olympian-like horses that cost more than their kids’ Ivy League college tuition.
B. a binge-drinking festival featuring port-a-potties, beer, and mud.
C. Both A and B.
The answer is C. The atmosphere of the Infield and that of the grandstands is vastly different but equally awesome. If you’re willing to fight some crowds, BYOTP (in case the port-a-potties run out), and stand for the majority of the day, you can get a Kentucky Derby experience for $40. Here are 10 tips and tricks for navigating the intoxicated territory that is the Infield.
1. Bring $40 cash (plus more for betting and drinks).
Entering the Infield will cost you only $40 and tickets don’t run out. They let everyone in. Credit cards are accepted but the cash line moves more quickly. As you enter the long tunnel that takes you under the track and into the Infield, make sure you’re dragging a cooler behind you filled with water and sandwiches. Also pack a poncho (no umbrellas allowed), folding chairs (there are no chairs unless you bring them), a tarp (it gets muddy) and a tent (to block the rain or sun).
2. Make a lap around the infield.
Seek out the best place to buy Mint Juleps, pee, and bet. If it’s a busy Derby day, it’s hard to place a bet, pee, and get a drink in the 45-ish minute time frame in between races. The lines are too long. Oh, and find the giant turkey legs early (they sold out later in the day).
3. Get down to business Derby-style.
Put a Mint Julep ($10 with a souvenir glass!) in your hand immediately then place your first bet.
4. Take a crash course in betting.
Cough up the extra money for a program when you walk in. Projected winners are listed for each race and you can place your bets off those predictions — or just pick your favorite horse based off its name. Make sure you know your bet (win, place, show, trifecta, etc.), the horse’s number (not name), and how much money you want to put on the bet. For example, “$2 on number 7 to win.” If you run out of cash, there are ATMs in the Infield.
5. Make a fashion statement.
Dresses and suits are totally appropriate for the infield. So are sombreros, unitards, jorts, rain boots, pretty hats, homemade hats, and ponchos.
6. Or make a t-shirt.
The easiest way to find your group of friends and fit in with the Infield fashion at the same time. It’s like when you see that red t-shirt clad Thompson family reunion vacationing in Disney World. Except this time everyone’s drunk. The shirt must have a date (ex: Kentucky Derby 2011) and should become collector’s items representing each year you visit the Infield.
7. Have a dance party.
Did I mention there’s a DJ in the Infield? Take to the muddy dance floor or at least watch those who do.
8.Watch the horse races.
After you place a bet, find a TV screen or get as close to the tracks as you can. There are a few spots in the Infield where you can watch the horses fly by. Just know that you might piss off someone who got there at the crack of dawn to reserve a spot by the fence.
9. Watch the Kentucky Derby.
Yes, there is ONE race that is THE Kentucky Derby. That’s why it’s called “The most exciting 2 minutes in sports.” It’s one of the last races of the day. Just find the nearest big screen because you won’t be able to push your way to the fence for this one. If you didn’t bet yet, place a bet on this race. You can bet on it at any time during the day (and it’s recommended because the lines are too long just before this race).
10. Stay long or GO NOW.
You have two options: literally run to the tunnel to beat the crowds OR stick around. There are 2 more races after the Kentucky Derby. Let the crowds clear as much as possible because you’re just going to slowly shuffle with a mob of people through the tunnel and then fall asleep in stand-still traffic in an attempt to drive out of the sketchy Churchill Downs neighborhood as people try to sell you Mint Julep glasses from last year.
On the long walk back though the tunnel is when you complain about how you’re never coming back because you were too hot/cold/wet/drunk/not drunk enough. “I don’t care! I’ll pay hundreds of dollars for the grandstands next year,” you say. “I’m too old for this!”
Yep. That’s what I said last year.