A Local’s Guide to Enjoying the Kentucky Derby in Las Vegas
Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports
The first Saturday in May is always special here in the Sin City. While I got married in a seersucker suit with a whiskey bar and a bluegrass band, I don’t care much for the big hat thing of the Kentucky Derby. I lived in the South for several years and I’m totally down with gambling and day-drinking, but if it was up to me, I’d keep those massive lids inside their oversized boxes.
However, the annual Run for The Roses is the perfect combination of everything fun that Vegas has to offer. If you are coming here for the party, you will have a blast.
While the race is the headlining event and a huge draw, it’s also Cinco De Mayo, and many properties will combine the entertainment into one awesome celebration.
Here are some suggestions to make the most of your trip.
Note: I assume you know where you want to stay. Everyone is so darn picky with the location, the room and the theme of the property that I don’t want to go down that rabbit hole. I’m here to talk about what you do outside your hotel room.
Where to learn
It’s a great idea to attend a betting seminar to learn what the experts think of the field and where public money could be headed.
As Jason Simbal of CG Technology told me via text, “chalk has reigned supreme in the last five Derbys,” so following the public with your bets wouldn’t be a bad idea. Look for horses like Audible and Justify to receive a lot of the action, so it would be smart to include them in your plays for the big race.
The South Point Race Book is holding a free handicapping seminar at 6 p.m. PT on Friday that will include horse racing experts and expert handicapper Patrick McQuiggan. South Point’s sister property, Rampart Casino, located in the suburb of Summerlin, is also holding a handicapping seminar, with veteran handicapper Bob Ike and Race & Sports Manager Duane Colucci.
Where to eat
Need to get a good greasy base before hitting the cocktails? It’s only fitting to have a wonderful southern meal at Yardbird. Located inside The Palazzo, this is my favorite spot for amazing southern cuisine. Order the fried chicken. Trust me, it’s great. I’m a huge Old Fashioned fan, and the Yardbird mixologists make one of the best in Vegas. You can also watch the Derby here on Saturday, as they are doing a “Derby De Mayo” party, but there are better options for the race itself, in my opinion.
If you aren’t into fried chicken, you might want to check out Double Barrel Roadhouse inside the newly redesigned Park MGM. This is a new take on American food that is getting good reviews and won’t break your bank.
Where to watch … and drink
For raceday, remember that the festivities might start earlier than you Eastern Time Zone folks may expect. There will be plenty of events all over the Strip, but The Cosmopolitan is the place for the full Vegas Derby experience. Let’s be honest, the Derby is a fashion event, and the ladies heading to watch the race at The Cosmo will be dressed to the nines. Big hats and big bets all day long! This place also serves one of the best mint juleps in town.
If you don’t want spend a lot at the party, the Beer Garden and Sports Book inside SLS Las Vegas is also a great spot to watch the race. Mint juleps are $6, and guests who place wagers of at least $20 will receive a limited-edition William Hill souvenir glass.
The new sportsbook inside The Cromwell is another option, serving the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby, Woodford Reserve. You can enjoy a mint julep for $16 at their gorgeous lobby bar.
As far betting action on the race, Simbal is excited for what his sportsbook will see on Saturday.
“I do think handle will be up this year,” Simbal said. “We’ve seen really good activity, specifically during big events, and I expect this year to keep up with that trend.”
Best of luck everyone, and have fun on Saturday!
Top Photo: A general view of mint juleps for sale before the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs