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What Does a Trip to the Kentucky Derby Cost?

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

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It’s on your bucket list, so why not this year? It isn’t 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 a person who won’t bet more than $2 on the race, or go all out like a high roller. Or somewhere in the middle.

With those parameters in mind, GOBankingRates figured out just what you might spend on a last-minute trip to attend the Derby, and even the Kentucky Oaks the day before. To determine cost of travel, we selected Chicago as the point of origin, then researched everything from the price of lodging to admission to the ever-important apparel to come up with estimated costs.

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

Travel

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

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$2 Bettor: Driving there will take about 5½ hours. If your car gets 30 miles to a gallon and at a national average gas price of $4.16 per gallon, you can drive for about $45 each way. Set aside some money for tolls, too.

The Midstretch: 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.

The High Roller: Sentinet Jet is the “preferred private aviation partner” of the Kentucky Derby and Churchill Downs. It offers all-inclusive pricing and 25 hours of flying, no matter your starting destination. The company guarantees availability with 24 hours’ notice. Price is quoted directly to the consumer, but you can imagine.

Lodging

Hotel rooms — and prices — are at a premium during Derby week, but GOBankingRates found these options on Hotels.com.

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

Make Your Money Work for You

The Midstretch: 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.

Admission

You can experience the Derby in a variety of ways, grabbing everything from a piece of turf on the grounds (without a track view) to a luxury box. Here are some of your options.

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

Make Your Money Work for You

The Midstretch: Buy infield, uncovered reserved bleacher seating, which gives you access to the front side of the racetrack and the paddock areas. The $475 cost includes admission for both race days, as well as food and beverages.

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

Parking

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

$2 Bettor: TARC — the Transit Authority of River City — will provide public transportation to the Kentucky Derby. Single fares (not including transfers) cost $1.75. Schedule information is available on the website.

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

High Roller: Have someone drop you off, but you’ll need to pre-purchase a pass for the Derby Drive Drop-off zone. Passes cost $100 per car and are good for both the Kentucky Oaks and Derby days.

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Fashion

The Kentucky Derby is as much a fashion show as it a horse race, after all. The Derby’s website recommends spring colors. For the men, it says, “sun-drenched, tropical colors in bold stripes or busy plaid and bright pastels steal the limelight. Although, if you want a more polished look, a classic navy or seersucker blazer is always in style.” For the women: “Spring dresses, pastel-colored suits or bold separates 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 and be seen. Wear something comfortable from your closet. While Churchill Downs doesn’t have a dress code, the track also reserves the right to ask you to leave if you’re wearing something inappropriate.

The Midstretch: The website Rent the Runway has a section devoted to Kentucky Derby attire, allowing a woman to wear a dress she otherwise wouldn’t 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 milliner of the race.

The High Roller: The sky’s the limit for the cost of Derby attire, though the Courier Journal in Louisville took a stab a few years ago at what the well-appointed woman might wear and what the ensemble might cost. It started with a Monique Lhuillier tea-length dress, accessorized by a Jacquie Aiche necklace, a clutch from Jimmy Choo, Jamie Wolf earrings, Christian Louboutin pumps and a pair of Chanel sunglasses. The total? $21,690.

And that doesn’t include the price of a hat.

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