Spring is finally here and I couldn’t be more ready for it. For our family, springtime means we are coming up on the season of birthdays! The months of May and June are chock full of occasions as we have both of our girls birthdays, my birthday, and of course, Mother’s Day, as well. There’s so much to celebrate in so little time, so, last year we decided to combine the festivities into one giant party. It was so much fun that we just had to make it an annual event. So, now, springtime here means were in full prep mode for our annual Kentucky Derby Party. Today is also the first Sunday of the month, which means I am teaming up yet again with my other fellow projectors. Our theme this month is Spring, so be sure to check out their other spring ideas, down below at the end of this post.
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For those of you who don’t know. The Kentucky Derby is the first thoroughbred race in the American Triple Crown and it is often referred to as the most exciting 2 minutes in sports. Every year, It is held, at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, on the first Saturday in May. The other two subsequent races are the Preakness Stakes, held at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland, the third Saturday in May and the Belmont Stakes, held at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York, the third Saturday following the Preakness.
The Kentucky Derby is often referred to as, “The Tournament of Roses” and it is an extremely formal event, steeped in many rich traditions. Since my birthday is May 5th, it usually falls on the same weekend we are celebrating it. It also has a special place in my heart since the live television coverage was being aired at the restaurant where my husband and I had our first date many years ago. Yes, our first date was on my birthday, which is a great story for another day, but for now, back to the topic at hand. The Kentucky Derby is an incredibly high class event and a great excuse to wear your fanciest dress and of course a killer hat. And your derby party should be just the same! Encourage your guests to dress to the nines and be sure to give them a truly high class experience.
Now, since we also use this party as the birthday party for our two little girls, who will turn 3 and 5 respectively this year, we needed to find ways to include fun for all members of the family. We, of course, still serve the traditional full strength cocktail, the mint julep, and watch the races, but, for our younger crowd, we also added a few other elements, earlier in the day. This family friendly blend came out perfect, so I’ll dive right in to what we did.
First things first, are the invitations. Derby Day is an incredibly high class event and it’s all about luxuries, so feel free to use as much scripted font as you want. Seriously, the prettier the better. But don’t forget that this is also your opportunity to inform your guests of the party details as well. There is nothing worse than showing up to a party and not knowing what to wear or what to expect, so make sure to give clear instructions to your guests. Ours is very clear about what to wear, what activities and food will be provided, and what to bring. I have yet to meet a gal who wasn’t thrilled to receive an invite that encouraged formal attire, including our two tiny birthday girls.
Next, lets talk briefly about activities before we delve into our decor. We decided to have 4 stations that guests could visit throughout the day and one event activity, at a scheduled time, geared for the youngest in attendance. Our stations included a derby hat making station, a plant your own mint station, a cookie decorating station, and of course a photo op station. We’ll get into each of those, in just a minute, but first, I want to share what we did for the little kids. We set up two “ponies” at the end of our yard and created a relay game for the little kids. The kids in attendance were divided into two teams and each team was given a horse to care for. Their job was to ready the horse for the races. So first, each team had to feed their horse, which meant that each teammate had to run a handful of hay down to their horse and then run back. They then had to fetch water for their horse, brush their horses, and give their horses a “sugar cube” (a hardboiled egg balanced on a spoon). The team that completed their relay first, won the Derby Day trophy and took a group photo with our winning horse, “peaches”. This year we’ll be adding green bubble wands with a red rose on the top for each of the kids who participate in the event. Now on to our stations.
Derby Hat Making Station
This station was a huge hit for the adults and kids alike and we knew immediately it would be a complete necessity for our annual party. We have giant collection of wide brimmed straw sun hats, fastinators, headbands, and newsboy caps for the guest to choose from and then a vast array of things to decorate them with. Any feathers, ribbon, mini ponies, gems, pearls, and mesh work perfectly for this. The possibilities really are endless. Just don’t forget to put out adhesives for guests to use to attach their decorations. We found that these glue dots were the smartest things to have out, but you could also use a hot glue gun or something else if you prefer.
As far as where to get the base hats from, I tend to occasionally hit up my local thrift stores throughout the year and can usually snag 1-3 hats each time I go for around $2 each. Also, each spring, the Dollar Tree sells little girls straw sun hats which are perfect for decorating, so we usually have a large stack of those on hand. The fascinators are from Amazon and come in round or tear drop for $2 each and they come in LOTS of colors. The headbands are from Walmart, but could easily be found at a dollar store or on Amazon as well. The boys hats can sometimes be found at thrift stores, but usually less often, so I never pass one up when I see it. I also lucked out last year and snagged a bunch of kids ones in a clearance sale from The Childrens Place for a few dollars a piece. Just note, that if you buy used hats you should throw them in the freezer for a day or two, as a way to sanitize them prior to use. Normally, I’m a stickler for instantly washing any apparel bought second hand, but for obvious reasons, this just doesn’t work for hats, so, into the freezer they go.
Plant Your Own Mint Station
This station was a winner for adults especially, as fresh mint is a necessary ingredient in the classic derby drink, the mint julep. Traditional derby juleps are made using spearmint, but we also offered peppermint and sweet mint at our planting station. We chose these classic metal planters from IKEA as they give a nod in appearance to the traditional mint julep cup. We even provided adorable little chalkboard tags for our guests finished mint plant(s). The dollar store sells these little chalkboard clips in a four pack and I think they look just fabulous with our simple “mint” vinyl, svg included below. Just be sure to put out a few pretty, but functional, potting gloves at this station. No guest wants to ruin their manicure at such a formal party.
Cookie Decorating Station
This station is for the baking contest lover in all of us. It features cutout cookies, all pre frosted ahead of time in a base color, or colors, of your choosing, and a pipping bag or two of royal icing. The prefrosted cookies create perfect blank canvas for guests to decorate upon. We also found these adorable, clam-shell, take out containers at GFS for guests to pack their finished cookies in and finished them off with a round white sticker sporting our Derby Day logo, printable pdf included below. We had many of these round white stickers left after I reorganized my spices with them a few years back and they add the perfect final touch here.
Photo Op Station
This one is key and could be done many different ways, but it should definitely not be omitted! If you are going to ask your guests to dress to the nines, you had better give them ample opportunity to take photos! We have a children’s spring horse that our kids named, “Peaches” who serves as the perfect prop for our photos. I created a wreath of roses for him, as he, of course, is our winning horse and he proudly wears it all day long. Tradition would actually dictate red roses for the garland and technically, many hundreds of them, but I just can’t stand when colors clash, so I instead went with white roses, so it would compliment each and every guest’s attire for their photo. We also created a custom Derby Day sign for this station.
How to make a faux wreath of roses for your winning horse
For this, I used a base wreath from the dollar store, usually sold there, each spring, around party prep time, some wire cutters and a bouquet of faux white roses. You could also use some hot glue if you wanted to make yours indestructible. I opted not too and instead just left the rose stems a bit longer. Ours has, so far, had no problems with durability. This whole wreath takes just a few minutes. First, test fit your wreath base over your horses head and neck and bend it gently as needed. Ours fit perfectly once I coerced it into more of an oval shape. Next, clip all of your faux roses and greenery using wire cutters. Be sure to leave a generous stem on each. Next, starting with your roses, distribute them evenly throughout the ring. I knew that our horses wreath of roses would be viewed from the top and sides, as well as the front, so I made sure to cover them adequately as well. Then fill in with the remaining greenery stems and your done.
How to make a Derby Day sign
We wanted an incredibly ornate sign for this photo op. After all, if our guests are dressed to the nines, shouldn’t the sign fit right in with them? For this, we used an old print of a painting. NOTHING ORGINAL, I promise! I could never cover up an original piece of art in this way. But this print was definitely not an original and was quite the white elephant when we found it at a local garage sale. I did however, love the frame, and thought it had much better possibilities for this party. First, we gently popped the canvas out of the frame and sanded it to remove the texture that had been added to the print. Then, we wiped it down and coated it in white paint. It took a few coats to get full coverage, but afterwards it created the perfect blank canvas for our sign. Then, I cut my black vinyl into our Derby Day logo using my cricut and applied it. You can get my free SVG file along with the other party files and printables down below. Each year, I make sure to go back and update the year accordingly, which takes only a few minutes.
For other decor, we used a lot of horses, fresh roses, baby’s breath, seeded eucalyptus, mint plants, and ornate trays. We tried to stick to a neutral color palate so that everything would look cohesive and we could use items we own from other events and parties. As the Kentucky Derby is often called, “The Tournament or Roses” roses seemed the perfect fitting jewels in our floral arrangements. Of course, if you’re a stickler for the details, red roses would technically be even more on point, but they were a little bold for my taste. Either way, the roses paired perfectly with some baby’s breath and some seeded eucalyptus. I like to use fresh flowers all over the place for this party and usually opt for non traditional vases like watering cans, ceramic pitchers, and old ceramic horse statues.
How to make gold horses for your Kentucky Derby Party
My favorite decor additions for this party would have to be our gold horses. I simply bought a few plastic horses from the dollar store, cropped their hair and spray painted them gold. The whole process took only minutes but the result was just incredible. They were the perfect addition to this parties decor. The only problem with them is that they are not food safe, so I needed a different horse to use as a cake topper.
How to make the perfect Derby Day cake topper
For this, my childrens’ epic, toy animal collection came in very handy. They have several of these adorable Haba horses and they are just perfect for on top of a cake. I even whipped up a quick floral wreath to go on one of them, using some faux flowers, a wire cutter, twine, and hot glue. I then paired the horses with some gold number candles and a few roses so they fit the theme beautifully.
How to make a Derby Day trophy
Start with a glass water goblet from the Dollar Tree and two pipe cleaners. Fold each of the pipe cleaners in half and twist the two halves together, so that it has a slight spiraled appearance. Then shape it into a teacup handle shape or the shape of a cartoon ear and use hot glue to glue it to the goblet. Repeat with the second pipe cleaner for the handle on the other side. Paint the whole thing with two coats of gold spray paint, let it dry fully and affix a cricut, Derby Day, label. There you have it, the perfect DIY trophy, and at it’s one dollar price point, it simply can’t be beat!
Labels and proper signage is especially important if you want your guests to feel completely at ease. This way, they will know instantly, what is what, and you will not have to waste your time on party day, running around, and answering a million questions. We used these hanging chalkboard signs to label all of our food and beverage items. I absolutely love these little signs. They are incredibly inexpensive, easy to customize, and are just a stunning addition. We actually have these all over our house for labeling different things in our closets, front hall, and pantry and I go into full details on how to make them here.
Next, we labeled each station using larger chalkboard signs from Walmart and worked a little cricut magic on them. The custom SVGs that I created and used are included for free below as well.
For our menu, we mostly go with known crowd pleasers for all age groups, but we’re also sure to throw in a couple of iconic Louisville dishes, as well. We usually serve lots of fresh veggies, dip, and fruit, as well as a fully stocked charcuterie board. We also serve macaroni and cheese, ham and cheese sliders, and a tray version of the “Hot Brown”, which is an open faced sandwich and a true Louisville staple. For dessert we have caramel bourbon cakes, as well as mini dessert cups in two varieties, tuxedo and lemon blueberry. And, of course, we have a mint julep making station.
This year, we are thrilled to be adding stainless steel mint julep cups to the mix, as we found them here, through a restaurant supply company, and placed a bulk order.
That’s all you’ll need for a memorable and truly perfect Derby Day Party!
Now be sure to check out these other great spring ideas from some of my favorite creators.
Grandma’s House DIY – Spring Cleaning – Purging, Organizing, Keeping and LETTING GO
Life as a Leo Wife – The Cutest Burlap Carrot Wreath Ever!
2 thoughts on “The Best Kentucky Derby Party Decorations and Hosting Tips”
This looks like a fantastic party! I love all of the signage and the elegance of the party. May kicks off our party season as well, with Mother’s Day, our anniversary, my hubby’s birthday, my son’s, Father’s Day, then my birthday. Maybe one day I can talk them into having an elegant party. We’re moving into a new house at the end of the month, so perhaps I can throw a house warming party and combine all the birthdays. You’ve given some great ideas here. I love it so much!
Thanks, Niki. And ooh, a housewarming party, that would be perfect!! So exciting that you have an impending move coming up, praying it goes smoothly for y’all.