Countdown to the Kentucky Derby

It takes 12 months to prepare for the fastest two minutes in sports. Almost the minute after last year’s Kentucky Derby finished, Churchill Downs and hospitality partner Levy began strategizing how to deliver amazing food, beverage, and hospitality at more than 200 different dining locations at the track for 2019. Here’s a look at what it takes to keep the Mint Juleps flowing…

12 Months Out
Levy’s food and beverage team evaluate last year’s sales and research the upcoming trends in the industry to stay on the cutting-edge. They digest the data, using it to inform food and beverage menu decision making.

This year’s research found:

  • Churchill Downs served 6,500 pounds of steak in 2018
  • The Mint Julep is by far the most popular drink, with over 120,000 sold over the two-day period
  • In 2018, Churchill Downs launched a new drink with Woodford Reserve, The Woodford Spire, which became the third most popular beverage at the race (the second most popular being the Oaks Lily)

Additionally, during the trend research, the topics of plant-based proteins and increasing the focus on locally sourced food were found to be the most popular. Churchill Downs is committed to continually developing new partnerships, working with over 15 different local farms to provide guests fresh, local ingredients. Senior Executive Chef David Danielson visits a variety of local farms each year, building relationships to bring the best of Kentucky to Churchill Downs.

6 Months Out
Our chefs begin planning menus for each dining location in Churchill Downs. Much like the famous hats and fascinators worn on Derby Day, decadent food is part of the Kentucky Derby experience, with options like King Crab, Pork Belly Confit, and Scallop and Oysters Rockefeller offered in the Turf Club. From concessions to club spaces, the chefs make sure food and drink options are cohesive across the property. The culinary team works to innovate fan favorites with Kentucky roots, creating dishes like Bourbon Citrus Salmon and Scallop and Prawn Sausage with Black Truffle.

3 Months Out
The menus are finalized and Churchill Downs team members start placing orders for food and beverages. The order for the premium menu ingredients alone includes 22,000 chicken breasts, 8,200 pounds of pasta and 8,000 heads of locally grown lettuce. As for cocktails, Churchill Downs anticipates guests will enjoy over 130,000 Mint Juleps over the course of two days, which requires ordering 11,000 bottles of bourbon, 1,100 pounds of mint from local farms, and 65,000 pounds of ice.

Derby Day
Just before the big race, over 4,000 team members prepare for guests’ arrival. Ovens are lit, silverware is polished, and ties are given the final adjustments to be perfectly straight. Soon the gates open to welcome 170,000 eager guests, the dishes are plated, drinks are poured, and we’re off to the races.