Are you struggling with your decision on where to sit for the Kentucky Derby in 2016? I’ll admit, it can be a bit confusing and difficult to choose a seat given all the ticket options available. It’s not getting any easier either with Churchill Downs continuing to build and expand seating areas. This overview will give you the information you need to get started. If you still require more (detailed) information about a section, take a look at my Derby Ticket Buying Guide that I put together from my experience of buying tickets and attending the Derby over the past few years.
What’s new for 2016?
One thing to note for 2016 is that ticket prices have gone up across the board, and ticket availability directly from Churchill Downs during the pre-sale has become more limited. In a year following a Triple Crown winner, I sort of expected this. It has created more excitement around horse-racing and garnered a whole new fan base. This in turn will probably increase demand for Derby tickets. I have a feeling a lot of people are planning to finally check the Kentucky Derby off their bucket lists in 2016. So, plan to pay more for your Derby ticket and don’t be too picky about where you want to sit. Once you are at the track, you’re going to have an amazing experience wherever you sit!
What are the available seating options?
So, here is a general overview of the ticket situation for the Kentucky Derby to help you pick the perfect seat for your Derby experience. The way I see it, available tickets fall into 5 general categories: (1) general admission and middle tiers, (2) the infamous Section 110, (3) trackside and lower levels, (4) the third tier, and (5) the Millionaire’s Club.
(1) In the middle of all the action
General Admission, Infield, and the Middle Tier
The least expensive ticket at Churchill Downs is going to be the General Admission ticket, which includes the infield. You truly are in the middle of all the (party) action when you hang out in these areas, and not so much in the middle of the track action due to access limitations.
These tickets will give you access to the ground floor of Churchill Downs behind the track in the general vicinity of the paddock. You’ll have access to concessions, betting windows, and bathrooms on the ground floor, but be prepared for lines! You also won’t have a place to sit and rest, as the general admission areas only have a few benches located throughout. By early afternoon, the general admission area gets super crowded and littered; it’s pretty crazy.
I also throw the 2nd level (middle tier) into this category. You can find seating options in the second tier both in the clubhouse at Section 212 and grandstand sections. Section 212 is completely covered and feels very claustrophobic. The grandstand second tier has both uncovered and covered seating, but you are sandwiched in between the first and third tiers.
(2) Best bet for the cost conscious and groups
Section 110 was added to Churchill Downs a few years ago, and the cost of tickets in this section has remained reasonable (in the grand scheme of things). It’s an attractive ticket for many because it comes with hospitality (open bar), there are usually plenty of seats for sale at or close to face value, and it offers cover (from either the hot sun or the cold rain of a Louisville Spring).
The downside of this section, which might cause some folks to not even give these tickets a second glance, is that the entire seating area is located on the first turn. Granted, you get some great views of the main building and the crowd within as well as the twin spires, but you aren’t in “the house” so to speak. But, this seating area is quite large, and readers have informed me that it still provides a great atmosphere for the Derby.
I refer to it as the infamous Section 110 because I get so many questions about it. It seems many people are unsure of whether or not they want to sit here. They are attracted to the section because of the price point with hospitality, but the uncertainty creeps in because of its location and because when it first opened, there were a lot of negative reviews about the hospitality and amenities. The location is the location, you can’t change that. However, many readers have informed me that Churchill Downs has greatly improved the fan experience in this section when it comes to the hospitality, so don’t let that sway you away.
Churchill Downs sells these tickets in the $700-800 price range for both days, so you get two days of partying for the price of what one Derby Day ticket my cost you elsewhere in the main building area.
(3) Trackside is quite exciting
Lower Grandstand, Lower Clubhouse, Courtyard
There’s no doubt about it, sitting trackside on the rail or at least as close to the track as you can get by buying a ticket in the first tier, is an exciting place to sit for the Derby. There’s a lot of action on and around the track beyond the actual races that go on during the day. For example, the escort horses hang out on the track in between races and the press hovers all around the track looking for that perfect photo opportunity. As the Derby race approaches later in the day, the track gets even busier. You really feel the excitement of Derby Day in the lower level tier regardless if you are sitting in the Clubhouse, Courtyard, or Grandstand sections
(4) A view from the top is always a good option
Upper Grandstand, Upper Clubhouse
You can’t beat having a bird’s eye view of the track and all the pomp and circumstance that comes with the Kentucky Derby. The third tier clubhouse and grandstand seats are perched above the lower tiers, but not too high where you would feel a great distance from the track.
You’ll pay a bit more for the better view when you move up to the third level, regardless if it’s the clubhouse or the grandstand side. Once on the third floor, however, you’ll also see another bump in price if you want to move over to the clubhouse from the grandstand. That’s thanks to being a bit closer to the finish line and for supposed nicer concession areas (yes, they are nice, but I’ve not yet sat in the third tier grandstand to know if they are THAT much nicer).
There’s also a new section that was recently added to the Grandstand called the Grandstand Terrace at Sections 326 and 327. It sits farthest away from the finish line, but it still offers a view of the track with a great view of the starting line for the Derby Race as well as a hospitality package. You can get these tickets through Derby Experiences.
(5) Money is no object
The Millionaire’s Club and everything above the third tier
If you have the money and don’t mind blowing it on a ticket to a horse race, then everything above the third tier is for you. These sections start to get into serious cash for a ticket. I’ve never sat in any of the sections above the third tier (I’m still looking for a sponsor if anyone is interested), so I can’t really tell if you if it’s worth the splurge. But, the tickets do come with hospitality and the chance to rub elbows with some well-to-do corporate types, celebrities, 1-percenters, and their lucky friends who were invited to come along for the ride.
Tickets for these sections are easily found via Derby Experiences. You can find all the options and ticket prices for 2016 here.
What is actually for sale?
The Kentucky Derby Pre-Sale ticket offerings were very disappointing this year. I had hoped for some options in the lower level and third tier clubhouse as well as the Courtyard as in years’ past, and some more covered options other than Section 325 and 110. Unfortunately, it appears the best tickets have gone to Derby Experiences, the Official Kentucky Derby Experiences Provider. So, for example, instead of having an opportunity to buy a ticket package in the Courtyard sections for $1400 per person like last year (the sections’ inaugural year), you now have to go through Derby Experiences or another third party like Stub Hub, Derby Box, etc., to get a ticket. Derby Experiences is selling the ticket package for $2899 (includes both Oaks and Derby); talk about a price increase. If you use a broker to get a Courtyard ticket, expect to pay anywhere from $1700-$2400 (before fees) for just Derby day.
The pre-sale is on Tuesday and Wednesday, November 10 and 11. Whatever is left over will go on sale to the general public on Thursday, November 12. Based on the offering, the purchase of Derby tickets directly through Churchill Downs is pretty much for anyone interested in sitting in the Grandstand or Section 110 sections. Everyone else should start throwing some extra bills in their Derby savings envelope for the secondary market. I think the 142nd Derby is going to be a hot and expensive ticket.
To compare prices over the past year, here are the ticket prices offered during the pre-sale for the Derby in 2015.
UPDATE: I participated in the pre-sale and was able to buy a box of 6 tickets in Section 325, Row A. However, friends who were also trying to buy tickets in this section as well as Section 110, had no luck. I got my box within the first minute the sale started. I heard that folks who waited a few hours and went back found more options available. I might be selling my box of 6 for Derby Day to move closer to the finish line. If I decide to sell, I’ll be doing so in mid April. If interested, send me an email.
Did you participate in the Kentucky Derby Pre-Sale this year? Were you able to get the tickets you wanted? Where are you sitting? Share in the comments below.
For all your Kentucky Derby Party needs or to get your Kentucky Derby Souvenirs, check out the Official Online Store of the Kentucky Derby!