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2023 Kentucky Derby: Traditions, food, drinks and other iconic customs for Derby Day

Tapit Trice strengthens his case to win the 2023 Kentucky Derby as he outruns fellow favorite Verifying to win the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.

The Kentucky Derby is one of the most iconic sporting events in the world. But it’s not just the race that has everyone planning their trips to Churchill Downs. It’s the traditions and pageantry that have captivated millions across the globe.

Catch these traditions live at the 2023 Kentucky Derby, which will air on Saturday, May 6 from 12 to 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC, and keep reading to prepare for all the most fun and festive elements of Derby day. Coverage is also available to stream live on, the NBC Sports app and Peacock.

RELATED: How to watch the 2023 Kentucky Derby


The Kentucky Derby is known for its colorful and flashy hats and fascinators (an often-elaborate headpiece). Make your own at home using an old hat or headband and whatever materials around the house inspire you.

Kentucky Derby 2021 fashion: Outfit ideas, latest styles, trends, hats

May 3, 2019; Louisville, KY, USA; Women huddle together for a photo as they wear derby hats during the 145th running of the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs. Mandatory Credit: Jim Owens-USA TODAY Sports

Jim Owens-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re pressed for time or have run out of ideas, there are also many options available online or in stores. The Spring 2023 line from Kentucky Derby 149 Featured Milliner Christine A. Moore Millinery includes an array of hats and fascinators in neutral colors, pinks and cool tones.

RELATED: Kentucky Derby fashion: Hats, outfit ideas, What to know about the Kentucky Derby

Mint juleps

The recipe, of course, contains mint and Kentucky bourbon, but also can include pomegranate, orange, lemon and a dash of honey from Versailles, France, if you happen to have some.

If you’re more into fruit, why not try a cherry-infused variation of the Mint Julep, a blackberry take on the cocktail, or a recipe that incorporates strawberry.

RELATED: Kentucky Derby drinks: How to make a mint julep

The Garland of Roses

After the race, the champion horse is given the iconic garland of roses in the winner’s circle, hence why the race is nicknamed “the Run for the Roses.”

In 1883, New York socialite E. Berry Wall presented roses to the women at a party. Inspired by this gesture, Churchill Downs founder and president Meriwether Lewis Clark announced that roses were the official flower of the Kentucky Derby. In 1896, the tradition of draping a blanket of 554 red roses on the Kentucky Derby winner began.

148th Kentucky Derby

LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY - MAY 07: Jockey Sonny Leon aboard Rich Strike celebrates after Rich Strike won the 148th running at Churchill Downs on May 07, 2022 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Getty Images

Hot browns and other Kentucky Derby foods

When it comes to Kentucky Derby cuisine, it doesn’t get much better than the Kentucky Hot Brown. The hot brown is a product of the historic Brown Hotel in downtown Louisville. In the 1920s, Chef Fred Schmidt was looking for a late-night delicacy for partying night owls and found it in this open-faced turkey sandwich topped with bacon and Mornay sauce.

You also can’t talk about Kentucky food without talking about its world-famous fried chicken. Thanks to Colonel Sanders and his roadside restaurant in Corbin, Ky., fried chicken may be the most widespread, globally known export out of the Bluegrass State.

Related: Kentucky Derby food 2023: Recipes for traditional desserts, snacks, pie

The winner’s circle

From 1875-1929, the Kentucky Derby winner would stand in a circled area on the racetrack drawn in chalk dust. It began to be known as the “winner’s circle.” From 1930-1937, organizers moved the trophy presentation from the track to an area adjoining the clubhouse. An electric odds board and presentation stands were added in 1938 and every winning Kentucky Derby horse since then has been led to the winner’s circle.

The winner’s circle is usually only reserved for winners of the Derby, but it has hosted a limited amount of weddings and even has ashes of prominent horse racing and breeding industry workers spread on the ground.

“My Old Kentucky Home”

After the Call to Post is the playing of the state song, “My Old Kentucky Home.” The tradition dates back to the 1920s and the University of Louisville marching band has been part of the performance almost every year.

The song was written in the 1850s by Stephen Foster and features depictions of slavery in the pre-Civil War South. The song’s exact meanings and intentions have been subject to varying interpretations over the last 170 years, and, more recently, there have been renewed calls to re-examine the song’s place – on Derby Day and in American society at large.

Embrace the most important Kentucky Derby tradition and watch the 149th running of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 6 from 12 to 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC. Full coverage is also available on, the NBC Sports app and Peacock.