When you picture Kentucky Derby® weekend at Churchill Downs®, your thoughts immediately gravitate toward the two main events: the Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby itself. While these are certainly the most noteworthy items on the schedule, Derby weekend offers 14 total races. It’s not uncommon to see Breeders’ Cup participants and champions racing on the undercards! Other than the weekend of the Breeders’ Cup Championships, it’s rare to find this many graded stakes in one place. Let’s see what the 2016 Derby weekend has in store.
Thursday, May 5th
If you happen to arrive the day before the weekend festivities really kick off, you’re in for a treat! Gates open at 11 AM and the first race is held around lunchtime. The 23rd Kentucky Juvenile Stakes, a contest among two-year-olds, is a 5-furlong sprint to the finish held on dirt with a $150,000 purse. Though it doesn’t technically belong to an undercard, it will be the highlight of “Thurby” (the Thursday before the Derby) and 2016 marks the race’s return to the spring meet schedule for the first time since 2010.
For early morning access on either Thursday or Friday, consider booking the Backstretch Tour at Dawn. This tour is exclusive to Derby Experiences’ clients, offering the chance to take in the beauty of Churchill Downs and watch the horses out on the track for their morning training!
Friday, May 6th
Friday is the day of the Kentucky Oaks! This is when you typically see crowds of well-dressed spectators descending on Churchill Downs to see the main events begin. The Longine Kentucky Oaks, the premier race for 3-year-old fillies, is run over 1 1/8 miles of dirt track and takes place before lunch.
The Grade I La Troienne is held immediately after the Kentucky Oaks. This race is 1 1/16 miles in length and is open to fillies and mares ages 4 and up. The race’s namesake, La Troienne, was a French bay mare who had a successful racing career and gave birth to 10 winners during her career as a broodmare.
Grade II races taking place on the afternoon of Oaks Day are the Alysheba and Eight Belles Stakes. The Alysheba Stakes is still relatively new, having just joined the undercard in 2004, and is named after the 1987 Derby winner and U.S. Racing Hall of Fame inductee Alysheba. The race is run on dirt over a 1 1/16 mile distance and is open to Thoroughbreds ages 3 and up. Eight Belles, which was recently upgraded to Grade II status for 2016, is a 7-furlong race intended to test a select group of 3-year-old fillies.
Two Grade III stakes races will be held later in the afternoon as well – the Edgewood and the Twin Spires Turf Sprint.
Saturday, May 7th
Derby Day hosts 7 total races and offers winnings of more than $4 million. Nearly half of the purse belongs to the winner of the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby, the highlight of the weekend and the event that draws such a large crowd to Louisville. It’s the first leg of the coveted Triple Crown™, an honor which every owner, trainer, and jockey would love for their horse to earn.
Two more Grade I stakes will celebrate their 30th runnings on Derby Day after the main event – the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic and the Humana Distaff. The Turf Classic offers a break from all the action on the dirt track, is run over a distance of 1 1/8 miles, and is open to ages 4 and up. The Distaff Handicap, also open to ages 4 and up, features some of today’s most talented fillies and mares competing on a dirt track over a distance of 7 furlongs.
Three Grade II stakes races and one Grade III race will be featured later on Derby Day: Churchill Downs Stakes (II), Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (II), American Turf (II), and Pat Day Mile (III). These races will see some of the brightest 3- and 4-year-old Thoroughbreds of the modern age competing against one another to make their mark, as well as seasoned veterans of Churchill Downs seeking to assert their dominance over the younger field.
Get to the 2016 Kentucky Derby®!
It’s not just about “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports” – the undercards promise to deliver two days’ worth of thrilling action on the tracks of Churchill Downs. Book your Official Ticket Package with Derby Experiences today to experience the incredible premium seating area upgrades that will be finished by the 2016 Derby! Upgrade to include a three-night stay and choose from a selection of elite Louisville hotels to complete your ultimate Derby weekend package.