The Kentucky Derby has joined the long list of events postponed in order to curb the spread of COVID-19. Moved back just over four months from its original date of May 2, the 146th Derby is now scheduled for September 5. This doesn’t mean that the first Saturday in May is bereft of Derby celebrations, however, as Churchill Downs has a full day of interactive virtual events planned, including bourbon-centric content from Woodford Reserve. (For a preview, join Whisky Advocate on Instagram Live at 3 p.m. on Friday, May 1, where we’ll be talking with Woodford Reserve master distiller Chris Morris about the virtual Derby and more.)
The full day of activities stretches from noon to 8 p.m. Eastern. So while you may not be able to host an in-person Derby Day party until September, you can still enjoy some highlights of the traditional Derby Day at home.
A VIRTUAL DERBY DAY CELEBRATION
As the Derby’s official bourbon for the last three years, Woodford Reserve usually graces Julep cups all day long at Churchill Downs. For the virtual event, Morris will be live at 2 p.m. to demonstrate how to make a Mint Julep, while also discussing the shared history of horse racing and bourbon. Assistant master distiller Elizabeth McCall will join him to share her favorite alcohol-free versions of classic Derby cocktails as well. The pair will also lead fans in a live toast at 3 p.m.
Among the other activities planned for the virtual Derby are children’s crafts, an at-home Derby fashion contest, and a sing-a-long of “My Old Kentucky Home”. These events, and more, will be streamed on the Derby’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts. The midday activity, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., is a broadcast of the 2015 Kentucky Derby—where American Pharaoh began his Triple Crown run, later winning the Preakness and Belmont Stakes—which will air on NBC. The schedule of online events may be updated more as the date gets closer.
And even without a live race, there’s still an opportunity to “bet” on some horses through The Kentucky Derby: Triple Crown Showdown, a virtual, computer-simulated race between the 13 past Triple Crown winners. Beginning April 30, fans are invited to choose their favorite horse on the Derby’s website. This isn’t a real gambling event, but it is an opportunity to donate to COVID-19 relief efforts, with Churchill Downs matching donations up to $1 million.
Though not officially affiliated with the Churchill Downs events, Old Forester is also hosting a virtual Derby celebration, in the form of a turtle race that the distillery has dubbed “the slowest eight minutes in sports.” The 2020 Old Forester Kentucky Turtle Derby will feature eight turtles racing on Old Forester’s YouTube channel at 7 p.m. Eastern on May 2. Fans will be encouraged to donate to the Hospitality Industry Emergency Relief Fund, and Brown-Forman, the parent company of Old Forester and Woodford Reserve, will match up to $100,000 of donations. Fans can add an Old Forester Mint Julep to their celebration by using the code “Old Forester” for $5 off when ordering through Drizly.
No matter which events you participate in, having a bourbon in hand will help you get into the spirit. If Woodford Reserve is your pick, look for its commemorative Kentucky Derby bottle. The 2020 label features a watercolor by Louisville-based artist and former Atlanta Braves baseball player Richard Sullivan showing the thoroughbreds as they race toward the finish line, with the famous twin spires of Churchill Downs in the background.
Updated 5/1/2020 with additional information about the Turtle Derby.