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How to Host the Perfect Derby Party

Kentucky is a special place for equestrians, especially for Saddlebred enthusiasts, as it is home to the World's Championship Horse Show at the Kentucky State Fair. But, you don't have to wait until Aug. 17 to celebrate great equestrian activities in Kentucky, and you don't have to wait for Stake Night to dress up.

Coming up, just a few weeks away, is the Kentucky Derby, on May 4, which makes for the perfect excuse to nuzzle our horses and dress up in our Kentucky Derby best - floppy, over-the-top hats, pastels, feathers, ribbons, bows and ties. After all, we have a kinship with the Kentucky Derby; last year's winner, Justify, is part owned by longtime Saddlebred exhibitors, the Glasscock family, through the Starlight Partnership. Justify is also part owned by WinStar Farms, Head of Plains Partners and China Horse Club.

Daulton Van Kuren, owner of The Refined Host, based in Buffalo, New York, puts together elegant events not unlike the pomp and circumstance that centers around the lively stands at the Kentucky Derby.

For this exciting annual event, Daulton suggests the following for putting together a Kentucky Derby party that will leave a lasting impression.

Dress Code

When hosting a Kentucky Derby watch party, be sure to specify the dress code on the invitation (electronic is perfectly fine for an event such as this!). You want to encourage your guests to be festive and have fun with their attire to mimic that of the guests attending the race at Churchill Downs. “Festive Derby” or “Spring Chic” will help people grasp the vibe you are going for. Of course, women should not forget their hats, which are a sign of good luck. You can even provide a trophy for best dressed!

Signature Cocktail

No Kentucky Derby party would be complete without a signature cocktail, such as the Mint Julep, which is a bourbon based cocktail served in a sterling silver cup. If you can, create a small sign to display that lists the ingredients in case some of your guests are not the biggest fans. Always have a non-alcoholic version too and instead of bourbon, a good substitute is to pour in fresh, sweet tea.

Cocktail Napkins

Order custom cocktail napkins with horse icons on them or fun derby sayings. You could also have 3-4 different sets of napkins made with trivia questions on each. Display them all around the different spaces (i.e. some on the bar area, some with the food table, some on the coffee table), so that while guests are mingling, they can test their knowledge and easily make conversation.

Flower Arrangements

The rose has been the official flower of the Kentucky Derby since 1904, so if you are making flower arrangements, group together a handful of roses in silver vases (to match the mint julep glasses!).

Test Your TV & Sound

With the Kentucky Derby being coined as “the most exciting two minutes in sports” it is imperative that you have a great viewing area set up and a working tv with sound system. If you must, rearrange your sofas and ottomans to allow all guests to have an unobstructed view.

Pin The Tail On The Horse

Just like the game you played during your childhood, you can bring back this party classic but with a Horse instead of a donkey!

Of course, as equestrians, we truly will be paying attention to the race, but that doesn't mean we can't have an amazing time before and after. By implementing some, or all, of Daulton's suggestions, it is possible to have the best Kentucky Derby party ever, even if you can't be in Kentucky this year.

Daulton coordinates events and also offers consultation services, if you need a guiding hand, but not someone to completely assemble your event. For more information, visit

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