Kentucky Derby themed party: table setting with a miniature horse

Can’t make it to Churchill Downs on the first Saturday of May? No problem! You don’t need to head to Louisville to celebrate the Kentucky Derby. Instead, enjoy the horse racing event of the year with your fellow thoroughbred aficionados by hosting a Kentucky Derby-themed party

Whether you want to host a casual gathering or a grand viewing celebration, discover our top tips and ideas for a successful Derby Day party, plus digital invitations you can customize now. 

Kentucky Derby-Themed Party: 11 Tips for a Fantastic Celebration

Kentucky Derby themed party: horses running on a track

While the moment itself is over in a flash, planning a Kentucky Derby celebration takes more than a few minutes. Luckily, once you know the steps, it’s easy — and fun! Simplify the party planning process with these Kentucky Derby party ideas, tips, and tricks.

1. Decide on Your Event Formality

Kentucky Derby themed party: Jockey Silks Invitation

Design: 2birdstone

Invitation idea: Jockey Silks Invitation

The official race day event is a formal affair with a unique dress code, so feel free to follow suit with your own “dress to impress” Kentucky Derby-themed party. Typically, Derby-themed parties have a formal “Derby Day” or a cocktail dress code, such as seersucker suits or dress pants and blazers, cocktail dresses, and accessories like bow ties, eye-catching derby hats, or silk fascinators.

If your event is more relaxed, invite your party guests to join you in casual attire instead — or ask them to wear their favorite jockey’s colors, a horse-themed shirt, or an item featuring roses.

2. Choose a Venue

Many people host Derby Day parties at home, as it’s the ideal spot to invite friends over to watch the race in comfort. If you’re planning a larger gathering, consider booking a space at a hotel, restaurant, or bar, or rent a short-stay Airbnb for the day. You can go as laid-back or deluxe as you (and your budget) like, but you don’t have to spend much money to host a fun celebration.

3. Send Kentucky Derby Party Invitations

Kentucky Derby themed party: Derby Day Invitation

Design: Lisa Travis

Invitation idea: Derby Day Invitation

At Greenvelope, we’re big fans of sending themed party invitations, whatever the occasion. Our Derby Day invitations work for any celebration — whether you’re hosting a big bash or cozy gathering on race day.

Each digital invitation can be customized, so you can change the layout, fonts, colors, and wording to make it feel completely bespoke. What’s more, you don’t have to stick with Derby-themed invites, either. We have plenty of horse-inspired invitations that you can easily transform into the perfect match for your Kentucky Derby-themed party in just a few clicks.

4. Decorate with Roses

The Kentucky Derby is known as the “Run for the Roses” and many people look to these beautiful blooms to help them create a Derby Day event. Pink and red roses work well in centerpieces and as motifs for Kentucky Derby party decorations, including small details like napkins

5. Hang Banners and Flags

Banners, flags, or pennants offer another great way to decorate your party space for race day. Hang up a pennant that celebrates your favorite jockey or horse, or decorate with banners that feature a collection of horse- and Derby-themed images. Make your own DIY pennants or flags with felt or fabric, or buy them from a party supply store.

6. Create the Ultimate Derby Playlist

Set the tone for a day of Southern charm with a playlist that mixes bluegrass, Southern blues, country music, and pop. Throw in some of your favorite hits mixed with these ideas for a Kentucky Derby Day party playlist.

7. Embrace Traditional Southern Food

For your Kentucky Derby-themed party, focus on Southern comfort food. Classics like pimento cheese, sliders, hot brown sandwiches, and Derby pie with pecans are party food favorites for Derby Day parties. Take inspiration from traditional Kentucky Derby recipes, or invite friends to bring a dish and have a potluck meal instead.

8. Serve Classic Derby Drinks

Kentucky Derby themed party: fresh mint julep

A must-have for any Kentucky Derby-themed party drinks menu is the classic mint julep. It’s the official Kentucky Derby drink, after all. Use this fresh mint julep recipe to get the mix just right. You can also incorporate the rose theme across your drinks by adding fresh rose petals or mixing in a rose-flavored syrup or liqueur.

9. Create a Comfortable Viewing Area

The main event is all about “the most exciting two minutes in sport,” so before your guests settle down to watch the race, they’ll need somewhere comfortable to do it. Arrange your seating and style your space to create a cozy watching area. In a larger space, project the race day activities onto a large blank wall or projector screen instead.

10. Have Fun with Party Games

With the main event only lasting a few minutes, you’ll want other ways to entertain your guests. Plan a selection of indoor and outdoor party games. Classics like cornhole, ring toss, scavenger hunts, and treasure hunts are fun for the whole family. You could also set up a Derby-themed quiz to test everyone’s knowledge and host a for-fun bet on who the winning horse will be — with a trophy for the winning guesser.

11. Offer Themed Party Favors

All eyes are on the horse racing, and luckily it’s an event that can give you plenty of inspiration when it comes to party favors. Send your guests home with mint julep cups, mini horse figurines (for the little ones), or handmade cupcakes with a race day-themed topper. If you want to send a thank you note, we have plenty of digital thank you card designs that make it easy to send your own custom thank you cards.

5 Stunning Invitations for Your Kentucky Derby-Themed Event

Ready to choose an invite that’ll excite your guests about the big race day? Here’s a handpicked selection of our all-time favorite Kentucky Derby-themed party invitations.

1. Derby Party Invitation

Derby Party Invitation

Design: Signature Greenvelope

We adore the simplicity of this Derby party invitation. It has a subtle nod to vintage stationery but still feels fresh, making it perfect for a relaxed or more classic Kentucky Derby-themed party.

2. Letterpress Derby Invitation

Letterpress Derby Invitation

Design: Signature Greenvelope

Looking for a sophisticated invite that stops folks in their tracks? This letterpress Derby invitation instantly catches the eye with its textured raw-edge design. With an elegant script front and horse racing illustration, it has all the vintage and traditional vibes you could want.

3. Derby Roses Invitation

Derby Roses Invitation

Design: Signature Greenvelope

For a glitzy and glamorous take on an invite, we love this classic Derby invite with gold foil accents. It feels luxurious and gets you into the race day spirit — perfect for an elegant, formal party.

4. Classic Derby Invitation

Classic Derby Invitation

Design: Raven Erebus

If you’re looking for an invite that puts the focus on the race itself, this illustrated racing invitation is a perfect match. It works well for a company-hosted event or a party filled with racing enthusiasts.

5. Jockeys and Juleps Invitation

Jockeys and Juleps Invitation

Design: Bonjour Berry

For a fun and lighthearted take on a Kentucky Derby-themed party, you can’t go wrong with this playful Derby-themed party invite. The design feels contemporary and bright — making it a great fit for a gathering that’s a little less formal than your usual Derby Day celebration.

Impress Your Guests with These Kentucky Derby-Themed Party Ideas

The big day isn’t that far away, which means it’s time to start prepping for your Kentucky Derby-themed party now. Use this guide to help you get organized, find inspiration, and plan a celebration your guests will remember and look forward to in future years.

After you’ve finalized the timing and location of your get-together, use our Kentucky Derby Day invitations to spread the word. It’s easy for guests to hit RSVP via email or text, plus Greenvelope invites come with RSVP tracking. Now that’s a winner!