Kentucky Derby Festival Events

The Kentucky Derby Festival is an annual series of events held in Louisville, Kentucky during the two weeks preceding the first Saturday in May, the day of the Kentucky Derby. Major among those events are the following:

  • Thunder Over Louisville – The annual kick-off event of the festival, it is an airshow and fireworks display held on Saturday two weeks prior to the Derby. The airshow is a spectacular demonstration of aerial stunts and fly-byes involving over a hundred military and civilian air-craft, with past performances by such precision teams as the Blue Angels. The fireworks display which follows that night is the largest fireworks extravaganza in North America. Both take place over the Ohio River in downtown Louisville. Over 625,000 people have attended each year, lining the banks of the river, docked on boats nearby, or from vantage points in hotels and other buildings in the area. The entire show is a breath-taking thrill that you will never forget.
  • The Great Steamboat Race – It is an annual event on Wednesday during Kentucky Derby week. Traditionally it is a 14 mile race on the Ohio River between the Belle of Louisville and a Challenger, which recently has been the Belle of Cincinnati. Spectators can watch the race from the shoreline or abroad one of the vessels. Price for the Belle of Louisville is $130.00 and includes food, drinks and entertainment.
  • The Great Balloon Race – The great balloon fest is a series of five events the lead up to the final “The Great Balloon Race”.Most colorful of the preliminary programs is the great balloon glow where balloons light up and rise just above the ground and hover there in review. There is usually a crowd of about 50,000 people there to observe this brilliant landscape of glowing balloons against the night sky. The signature event, the Great Balloon Race takes place on the Saturday prior to Kentucky Derby Saturday and features dozens of colorful hot-air balloons racing in the early morning in a “Fox and the Hare” race. Watching all of those magnificent balloons drift across the morning sky is an awesome sight to behold.
  • Dawn at the Downs – It is traditionally held annually on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday during Kentucky Derby week in the Millionaires Row Section of Churchill Downs. Guests can enjoy a buffet breakfast from 7:00 AM – 9:00 AM while watching horses conduct morning workouts. A host provides information about the horses and insights into the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks races. This even gives you a preliminary look at Churchill Downs, one of its most prestigious seating areas, and some of the Kentucky Derby activity on the track. Admission is $70.00 per person.

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