Not one for understatement, the Kentucky Derby is said to be “the greatest two minutes in sport”, and as possibly the most famous race in the world, it’s hard to argue with that. (Just don’t mention this near Flemington on the first Tuesday in November.) But the one-and-quarter-mile race in Louisville, Kentucky, is just the high point of the Kentucky Derby Festival, a fortnight-celebration of racing kept rolling along by the Mint Julep, a cocktail associated with the race for almost a century.
The festival features one of the biggest fireworks displays in the US, steamboat and hot-air balloon races as well as showcasing the finest spring fashion. From the subtle to the extravagant, hats have become a centrepiece of Kentucky Derby fashion and if you’re planning on going, get in to your preferred milliner early.
Beyond the track, get a sense of the 142-year history of the race at the comprehensive Kentucky Derby Museum. Book early to snare a room at the awarded, boutique lodgings at the 21c Museum Hotel, that doubles as a impressive cultural centre. The Brown Hotel also cranks up the levels of southern luxury and opulence, including the must-eat Hot Brown turkey and bacon sandwich.
For a more healthy and local option, get to the lauded Harvest restaurant, where 80 per cent of their produce comes from within 100 miles. MilkWood is also winning plaudits for its southern food with an Asian twist. And no visit to Kentucky is complete without a Bourbon tour (check out The Urban Bourbon Trail) and a night of Bluegrass at the legendary Stevie Ray’s Blues Bar.