Do you know which annual event is billed as the “fastest two minutes in sports”? Here are three clues: It’s for three-year-olds only. It takes place in the heart of the Bluegrass State. It’s run on the first Saturday in May. Horse-racing fans are getting very excited about the upcoming Kentucky Derby. The famous race is America’s longest-running sporting event, dating back to 1875. Commemorate the running of the Kentucky Derby with your group by highlighting some cherished Derby traditions. Let the festivities begin!

  • ACTIVITY – Locate the Bluegrass Region of Kentucky on a map. Find Louisville, the home of the famed track, Churchill Downs. Share a brief history of the Kentucky Derby. Display and discuss props: horse figurines, mint julep cup, Kentucky’s state quarter, an old horseshoe, wide-brimmed hat, jockey silks, red roses, classic seersucker suit, bridle, and Derby souvenir cups.
  • ACTIVITY – Ask the ladies to design a Southern belle-styled Derby hat, using silk flowers, feathers, beads, and ribbons. Hold a hat parade and award prizes: win, place, show. Teach a lesson on hat etiquette. Alternate: Bring in fashion magazines and clothing catalogs, and ask the ladies to create a Kentucky Derby ensemble, complete with hat, dress, shoes, bag, and jewelry. Enlist one of the men to model a seersucker suit jacket and a bold-colored bow tie.
  • ACTIVITY – Show a photo of a Kentucky Derby winner, adorned with a garland of red roses. Learn the history of the nickname “The Run for the Roses.” For a simple craft, cut a horseshoe-shaped wreath from Styrofoam and add artificial red roses. Hang on a door.
  • DISCUSSION – Show photos of famous American race horses – Citation, Man O’ War, Seabiscuit, War Admiral. Ask group members to describe what makes the animals so special (ex: speed, beauty, intelligence, stamina). Demonstrate how to draw a running horse.
  • DISCUSSION – Show photos of racing horses crossing the finish line. Ask participants to talk about the importance of running the race – living well and finishing strong.
  • DISCUSSION – Share some interesting Derby records (ex: fastest Derby ever, most wins by a trainer, first female jockey, largest crowd, first filly to win).
  • DISCUSSION – Read the names of this year’s Kentucky Derby contenders. Learn how thoroughbred horses are named (see guidelines from the Louisville Jockey Club). Ask participants to come up with some great names for a race horse. Vote on favorite.
  • FOOD – Sample some traditional Derby Day foods/beverages: burgoo, derby pie, hot brown sandwich, Benedictine spread, or mint julep (look for a non-alcoholic version).
  • GAME – For some friendly competition, play a game of indoor horseshoes, using plastic horseshoes and a stake/peg. Hold a relay race: form two teams and see who can pass a toy horse down the line the quickest. Or, engage your group in a vintage horse-racing board game.
  • GUEST SPEAKER – Invite a horse owner/trainer/jockey to talk about thoroughbred race horses. Learn how jockeys are trained. Name items related to horse racing (ex: bit, bridle, saddle, jockey, silks, helmet, boots, reins, track, horseshoe, gate, paddocks). Use the list for a future word scramble or other word game.
  • MOVIE TIME – Watch a movie about a famous race horse, like Seabiscuit or Secretariat. Sip sweet tea.
  • MUSIC – Listen to a recording of Stephen Foster’s “My Old Kentucky Home,” the official song of the race. Or, listen to Dan Fogelberg’s 1982 song “Run for the Roses,” written for the Kentucky Derby.
  • MUSIC – Play some bluegrass music. Ask if anyone has ever lived in Kentucky or taken a trip to the state. Highlight some popular tourist attractions, including Lexington, “Horse Capital of the World.” Ask someone to explain the meaning of old-fashioned Southern hospitality.
  • REMINISCING – Listen to horse race sound effects. (Use the ElderSong resource I Hear Memories, a featured product for the month.) Ask: Have you ever ridden a horse? Do you enjoy the sport of horse racing? What do you like about it? Have you ever watched the Derby in person, via radio or television? What is unique about this race? Did you ever place a bet?
  • WORDPLAY – Challenge participants to apply some “horse” idioms to their own lives. Ask questions such as the following: Have you ever voted for a dark-horse candidate? What’s your remedy for a charley horse? Have you ever made the mistake of putting the cart before the horse? Do you know someone who eats like a horse? Did you ever tell your kids to stop horsing around? What is a one-horse town? How do you look a gift horse in the mouth? When have you changed horses in mid-stream?!


  1. Name the three events which make up the Triple Crown of horse racing? Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes
  2. How old are the thoroughbred horses that run in the Kentucky Derby? Three years old
  3. What is a filly? A female horse under four years old
  4. Where is the Kentucky Derby held? Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky
  5. How long is the race? 1.25 miles
  6. What is the official song of the race, played by the University of Louisville Marching Band? “My Old Kentucky Home”
  7. What do you call the horse racing uniform worn by jockeys? Silks
  8. What is draped over the winning horse at the end of the race? A blanket of red rosebuds
  9. When was the Kentucky Derby first run – 1875, 1900, or 1925? 1875
  10. The famous horse Man O’ War won all of his races except one. What was the name of the horse he lost to? Upset


“There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” ~ Winston Churchill

“RACING: DERBY DAY FUN” written by Sue Hansen. © 2012 ElderSong Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

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