What Time Does The Kentucky Derby Race Start? Here's The Best Way To Spend Your Saturday

LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 02: Women wearing festive hats pose in the paddock area prior to the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 2, 2015 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Source: Chris Graythen/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

The Kentucky Derby has lived up to its nickname of being "the most exciting two minutes in sports" since it began in 1875. Since the Derby is a "blink and you'll miss it" type of event, it's important to know the exact time of the Kentucky Derby race. As I've spent multiple years drinking in anticipation of the race to nearly end up missing it, I can't tell you how essential this time information will be if you care even in the slightest about the horse race. For 2016, the main event at the Kentucky Derby is scheduled to happen at 6:34 p.m. ET on Saturday, May 7. So you better prepare yourself for a long day of celebrating. 

It's as if the Kentucky Derby powers that be want to confuse spectators with its bizarre and specific race start time. And I'm telling you from experience, if you tune into the race on NBC at 6:37 p.m., you will truly be out of luck. My favorite bar hosted an annual Derby Day party every year. By the time the race began, the inside and outside of the bar were so packed, it was hard to get a decent view of the TV. Yet, I always tried to make sure I saw the actual race, even if I was utterly confounded by what time it started, which I blame on a combination of the strange start time and the abundance of mint juleps and Miller Lite.

If you plan on watching the race on TV, NBC Sports has the first coverage of the day, starting at 12 p.m. until 4 p.m. ET. Then you'll need to change the channel to NBC for their race coverage lasting until 7:30 p.m. — the nearly additional hour of coverage is for more sportscaster banter and giving the winning horse a garland of roses and the winning jockey a trophy. 

To make the most of your time waiting until the big Kentucky Derby race goes down at 6:34 p.m., here are seven tips to help you celebrate Derby Day. 

Purchase A Fancy Hat

My friends and I would always don our Derby Day finest the day of the race — aka one time, my cousin and I ran to Walmart to buy "fancy" hats before the derby party. Although large hats are not required for the Kentucky Derby, I'm of the mindset of why wouldn't you want to wear a big hat? Of course, what you find may not be as expensive or as elaborate as what the attendees at Churchill Downs wear, but you'll still feel fabulous with your oversized hat as you mingle before the race. If big hats aren't your thing, you could also channel the race by dressing up like jockeys and horses — something else my friends and I did one year. Needless to say, it was a big hit — even bigger than a big hat. 

Pick A Horse To Win

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Even if you aren't the betting type, it makes the day more fun to choose a horse that you'll cheer for when the race happens, especially since you can pick the horse solely based on its wacky name. This year's choices include Danzing Candy, My Man Sam, Majesto, Tom's Ready, and — my personal favorite — Cherry Wine. (If you actually care more about picking a frontrunner, then Gun Runner or Nyquist may be more your speed.) 

Consume A Mint Julep

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The traditional drink of the Kentucky Derby is the mint julep — a cocktail containing sugar, ice, bourbon, and mint. If you're planning on drinking on Derby Day, consider ordering one from your bartender so you can really feel like you're at Churchill Downs Racetrack. If you're at a party, you can make your own since the recipe for a mint julep is pretty simple, with the hardest part being the muddling. Feel free to move onto beer, wine, or another cocktail after your mint julep, but you may not want to after the refreshing drink hits your lips. 

Pace Yourself (Unlike The Horses)

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Since the gates in Louisville, Kentucky open at 8 a.m., if you are attending the Kentucky Derby you'll have to wait over 10 hours to see the main event. The Kentucky Derby does try to keep attendees occupied with promises of celebrity spotting on the red carpet and a performance by Lady Antebellum, but for many people who celebrate the race — whether or not they are at the track — those 10 hours will be used for imbibing. However, what's the point of drinking all day just to miss the actual race? With that in mind, I recommend not pounding your drink of choice too hard before 6:34 p.m. Plus, you'll have another reason to drink post-race at 6:37 p.m. once a horse crosses the finish line.

Plan Your Bathroom Breaks Accordingly

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Depending where you party for Derby Day, there could be an outrageously long line for the bathroom. If I haven't made this abundantly clear, it would be quite regrettable to miss the main event of the Kentucky Derby, so be aware of the time before you hit the head. Considering 2015's winner American Pharoah finished the race in 2:03.02 — that's two minutes, three seconds, and two hundredths of a second — the race is over before you know it. (And for you astute and possibly snarky readers out there — yes, Pharoah is misspelled, but that is correct spelling of the horse's name.) 

Rejoice At 6:34 p.m.

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Can you believe it? The race is finally here! Make sure you have your hat on, your favorite horse picked out, a mint julep in your hand, an empty bladder, and a sweet spot in front of the TV to watch "the fastest two minutes in sports."

Try To Remember The Name Of The Winner

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I can't tell you how many times that I have broken this rule, but not only does remembering the name of the winner give a sense of purpose to your drinking, it also gives you street cred to say you watched that horse win live. Plus, if you tell anyone you spent the whole day celebrating the Kentucky Derby, but can't remember or know who won, you're going to have additional reasons to feel mortified during your post-Derby Day hangover. 

Even without being a huge fan of horse racing, somehow the Kentucky Derby has made for some of the most memorable (and errr, not so memorable) days of my young adulthood. So when 6:34 p.m. comes around on May 7, I wish the horses, jockeys, and fellow spectators luck.

Images: nbcsnl/Tumblr; Giphy (6)

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