How much does a trip to the Kentucky Derby cost?

Thomas Kelley /

For horse racing fans, the Kentucky Derby – often dubbed “the most exciting two minutes in sport” – is the ultimate. The 148and edition, on the hallowed grounds of Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, is scheduled for May 7, with more than 150,000 people expected.

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It’s on your bucket list, so why not this year? It’s not too late to plan a last-minute trip to Louisville, and the cost will depend on the type of experience you want. You can spend conservatively, like someone who won’t bet more than $2 on the race, or go all out like a high roller. Or somewhere in the middle.

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With these metrics in mind, GOBankingRates has figured out what you could spend on a last-minute trip to the Derby, and even the Kentucky Oaks the night before. To determine the cost of the trip, we selected Chicago as the point of origin, then researched everything from the price of accommodation to admission to the ever-important clothing to estimate costs.

Here’s what a trip to the Kentucky Derby would cost.


It is 325 miles from O’Hare International Airport in Chicago to Churchill Downs in Louisville.

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$2 Bettor: It will take you about 5h30 to get there. If your car is doing 30 miles per gallon and at a national average gas price of $4.16 per gallon, you can drive for about $45 each way. Also set aside money for tolls.

The average stretch: Round-trip airfare that will get you there in time for Friday’s Kentucky Oaks starts at $381. Add a full-size car rental for $176.

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The High Roller: Sentinet Jet is the “Preferred Private Aviation Partner” of the Kentucky Derby and Churchill Downs. It offers all-inclusive rates and 25 flight hours, regardless of your departure destination. The company guarantees availability with 24 hours notice. The price is indicated directly to the consumer, but you can imagine it.


Hotel rooms – and prices – are sky high during Derby week, but GOBankingRates found these options on

$2 Bettor: Head about 80 miles east to Georgetown, outside the state capital of Frankfurt, where you can stay at the Microtel Inn for $275 for two nights.

The average stretch: Book two nights at the Holiday Inn Louisville Airport, 1.5 miles from Churchill Downs, for $1,569. If you’re inclined, walk to the track to save the hassle – and cost – of parking.

The High Roller: Another Holiday Inn – the Express Louisville Airport Expo Center – can accommodate you for $3,465 for your stay.


You can experience the Derby in a variety of ways, grabbing everything from a piece of grass on the pitch (with no view of the track) to a luxury box. Here are some of your options.

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$2 Bettor: A general admission ticket will take you to Churchill Downs. On race day it’s $85, or save $5 if you buy in advance. (A ticket to the Kentucky Oaks and Derby is $135.) Bring a chair or sit on a blanket and watch the race on the massive 4K video board. To save money, bring a lunch box or food in clear plastic bags or containers no larger than 12 inches by 6 inches by 12 inches – limit one per attendee. You can also bring up to 24 ounces of water in unopened plastic bottles.

The average stretch: Buy reserved bleacher seats on the ground, uncovered, which give you access to the front of the racecourse and areas of the paddock. The $475 cost includes admission for both race days, as well as food and beverages.

The High Roller: First Turn Reserved Seating completes your view of the track with access to the Kentucky Derby Walkover, where you’ll see the horses parade from the barn to the paddock to the racing area. Enjoy all-inclusive food and drink as well as dedicated restrooms. A two-day ticket costs $1,076.

Car park

All on-site parking at Churchill Downs is reserved during Derby week and spaces are no longer available for purchase.

$2 Bettor: TARC – the River City Transit Authority – will provide public transit to the Kentucky Derby. Single fares (excluding transfers) cost $1.75. Schedule information is available on the website.

The average stretch: For $30, park at Cardinal Stadium on the University of Louisville campus, then walk to Churchill Downs.

High-Roller: Have someone drop you off, but you’ll need to purchase a Derby Drive drop-off area pass in advance. Passes cost $100 per car and are valid for Kentucky Oaks and Derby days.


After all, the Kentucky Derby is as much a fashion show as it is a horse race. The Derby website recommends spring colours. For men, he says, “sunny tropical colors in bold stripes or checkered, bright pastels steal the show. However, if you want a more polished look, a navy or classic seersucker blazer is always in style. For women: “Spring dresses, suits in pastel colors or bold pieces that coordinate with their Derby headwear and accessories.”

$2 Bettor: If you’re sitting on your blanket in the general admission section, you won’t exactly see or be seen. Wear something comfortable in your wardrobe. Although Churchill Downs does not have a dress code, the track also reserves the right to ask you to leave if you are wearing anything inappropriate.

The average stretch: The Rent the Runway website has a section devoted to Kentucky Derby attire, allowing a woman to wear a dress she wouldn’t otherwise buy. Try a blue and white Lilly Pulitzer sundress or a light purple lace dress from Dress the Population for $30. Personalize the outfit with a hat – a Derby trademark – from an official race hatter.

The High Roller: The sky is the limit for the cost of Derby clothing, although the Louisville Courier Journal attempted a few years ago what the aptly named woman might wear and what the ensemble might cost. It all started with a Monique Lhuillier midi dress, accessorized with a Jacquie Aiche necklace, a Jimmy Choo clutch, Jamie Wolf earrings, Christian Louboutin pumps and a pair of Chanel sunglasses. . Total? $21,690.

And that does not include the price of a hat.

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About the Author

Jami Farkas holds a degree in communications from California State University, Fullerton, and has worked as a reporter or editor for daily newspapers across the United States. She brings to GOBankingRates her experience as a sports writer, business writer, religious writer, digital writer – and more. Passionate about real estate, she passed the real estate licensing exam in her state and is still debating whether to get into home selling – or just writing about home selling.

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