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I have a lot of experience attending the Kentucky Derby. From 1995 through 2010, I only missed two Derbies. I’ve been twice since 2011. I have sat everywhere, and paid every price for tickets. In recent years, Churchill Downs has seemingly tried to cram more and more people into the already-crowded facility. So in my opinion, as someone who puts the racing ahead of the experience, attending the Derby in person isn’t the thrill it once was.
That said, if you decide you just have to go to the Kentucky Derby, I doubt there is anymore more qualified than I am when it comes to giving seating advice. And my advice will start with a question: How do you want to experience the Derby?
Do you want to just be part of the party? Then buy a general admission ticket for $70. Get there early if you want to find a bench. You might be able to bring your own folding chair, I’m not sure. But anyway, don’t plan on seeing a horse anywhere but in the paddock. There will be long lines for the bathroom, especially for women.
Are you a racing fan who wants to actually see the horses on the track during the race, and maybe even have a view of the finish line? Start looking for tickets on the 3rd floor of the clubhouse. Right now on StubHub, you can find a few for around $1,200 each. Many others are $2,000 and up depending on where your box would be. If you are bringing a girl you want to even moderately impress, the 3rd floor of the clubhouse is the bare minimum and it’s perfectly adequate. She won’t have to walk through puddles of God-knows-what in the bathroom. Nor will she have to wait in line for 20 minutes. Don’t expect good food though.
What surprised me during my 30 minutes of research this morning was the high cost of seats in the 2nd and 3rd floors of the grandstand. Many seats on the 3rd floor are over $1,000. In most years, you can find a really good seat in the grandstand for $500 or less.
Also higher-than-expected were seats at ground level in both the clubhouse and grandstand.
If you are really feeling like a baller, you can almost spend whatever you want on tickets. There are tons of special rooms and suites and all that jazz still available.
Do you want to be under cover if it rains? Then pay close attention when making a purchase. Again, this is why I like the 3rd floor of the clubhouse and the grandstand. Most boxes/seats are under cover.
My best advice is this: Get creative when shopping. Call a local ticket broker. Ask your friends. Because right now, prices are nuts. Waiting might also pay off. If there is rain in the forecast, prices sometimes drop. If you are a gambler, maybe just show up and see what you can find from the scalpers. I did that in 2014 and got lucky with good seats on the 2nd floor of the grandstand.