There are people who go to the Kentucky Derby every year and know the drill.
For many people, though, Derby is a whole new experience, and we mean experience.
It can also be a mystery, with its own customs, traditions and logistics. If you have never been to the Derby but have decided that this is going to be your year to go, here's a little primer on what to expect and what to look for.
Question: Can I go?
Answer. Absolutely. In fact, everybody should go to the Kentucky Derby at least once. It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, after all, at the top of some people's bucket list.
The cheapest way to go (and probably the only way this late in the game) is general admission, which is $60 at the gate.
That gets you into Churchill Downs in Louisville, but not much else. You can walk around the outside of the paddock, where the horses will be saddled before the race, and you can go into parts of the grandstand (but not most areas) and into the infield.
What general admission doesn't get you is a place to sit or anything to eat or drink. Luckily, you can bring in your own chairs and food — but not alcohol. Go to KentuckyDerby.com for a long list of what you can't bring into the infield (no wagons, umbrellas, coolers, tents, luggage, fireworks, grills, pepper spray or dogs, to name a few.)
If you want to sit near the paddock, get there when the gates open at 8 a.m.
Q. The infield looks too ... earthy. How can I get a seat?
A. Know someone rich, with tickets or connections. Failing that, check online at KentuckyDerby.com. If there are any seats available in any part of the track, they will be listed there. Earlier this week, tickets were available for the Oaks and Derby at the Luxury Trackside Club for $3,400 a person, which is a lot but includes great track views for both days and food, drinks and parking.
You can sign up to get information about 2016 tickets at KentuckyDerby.com under "Plan your visit" and keep your fingers crossed because what seats are available go very fast.
Now, yes, you can find tickets to other sections of Churchill Downs for Derby and Oaks days on ticket resale sites — for prices that will make you whistle. All we can say about that is be extremely careful dealing with any resale site or other third-party seller, because there are plenty of stories about people who thought they had tickets to Derby or other events and found that all they really had was a few hundred (or thousand) dollars less in their bank accounts.
Q. Where are the horses?
A. All the horses are in the Churchill Downs barns, which are on the backside of the racetrack, across from the grandstand. From the infield, you can see the horses walk on the track around to the tunnel to the paddock. From the paddock, you can see them saddled before the race.
Your odds of seeing a horse in person are slim unless you're lucky enough to get a spot along the fence. But with Churchill Downs' huge video screen, you can see all the races from practically anywhere now.
Q. Where do I park?
A. On-site parking is sold in advance and reserved, so you should plan on parking off-site. There are houses and businesses close to the Downs that offer parking for a fee, but you can also park at parking lots at the Fairgrounds ($8) and Papa John's Cardinal Stadium ($15) and catch shuttles to the Downs.
Q. What should I wear?
A. Shoes you can walk in and weather-appropriate attire. If you are lucky enough to have a seat, go ahead and dress up in your Derby finery. For women, this often means hats and dresses; for men, suits and ties. But if you're in the infield, you'll be outdoors, so skip the fancy dress and suit and go for comfort and sunscreen or rain ponchos. The Derby resembles a backyard boogie or a barbecue, especially in the infield. So be comfortable, because the Derby experience is like no other, and you don't want to spend the day nursing blisters or a sunburn.
Q. What can I bring?
A. Your camera, binoculars, money and credit cards, your patience and your stamina. And look at the list of items that are allowed and not allowed at KentuckyDerby.com. Newly banned this year are drones or selfie sticks. Yes, we know, selfie sticks are a way of life now, but they aren't allowed. So, no side-by-side photos with the racehorses or the jockeys. Just be one with your red Solo cup.
Q. Where are the celebrities?
A. The celebrities will walk the Derby Red Carpet, which is at Gate 10. You can see them walk in there and go up to posh seating areas in the clubhouse, including Skye Terrace and Millionaires Row, the land where most fans can't go.
Sometimes celebs also go out to the paddock before a race but not the Derby, which is all about the horses.
Q. How do I bet? What's an exacta? A trifecta? Superfecta?
A. There are betting windows everywhere at Churchill except bathrooms and Porta-Potties. It seems that way, anyway.
The easiest bets are win (first), place (second) and show (third) but they pay off the least, too. You can bet it by itself ("American Pharoah to win") or all three at once ("Carpe Diem across the board"). Now if you bet a horse to place, you will win if it wins or places, and if you bet to show, you'll win some if he finishes anywhere in the top three, but not as much as getting it right.
The harder bets are the "exotics:" You have to get more than one horse in more than one finishing order. But they pay off more — sometimes a lot more.
An exacta is the first- and second-place finishers, in that order. You can play it a little safer by "boxing" an exacta, which would let either horse come in first. But it costs twice as much because it's two bets.
A trifecta is betting the first three finishers in order.
If you like three or four horses and can't make up your mind on order, you can box them altogether, but it will cost a lot because involves a lot of bets.
If you are sure you know which horse will win but feel iffy on second place, you can "wheel" on the one you like, which is like setting up separate exactas.
Let's just say that there are a lot of betting options.
Q. What's the deal with the song?
A. Stephen Foster, who was from Pennsylvania, wrote My Old Kentucky Home. And if you have any kind of heart at all, you will get a lump in your throat when 165,000 people sing "weep no more my lady." It's one of the greatest moments in the whole sticky, sweaty, expensive day. Learn it before Derby, so your vocal chords won't be left out of the mass choir.
Q. Why do people get dressed in their Sunday best to be hot, sweaty and around a bunch of intoxicated folks?
A. Because it's an occasion, like church. It's the high holiday of horse racing, which sounds a bit blasphemous. Those lucky enough to spend most of their day in air conditioning and limos don't worry about such things. The rest of us just ignore them or suffer in silence. The last thing anybody wants to feel on Derby day is drab.
Q. How can I get a mint julep?
A. Vendors with racks of juleps in souvenir glasses around their necks will be selling them all over the Downs. Lots of people collect the glasses as souvenirs. But if yours gets broken, Kroger and other stores sell them. They were about $10 last year and man, was it worth it. This year's version will be made with Old Forester, which is a step up the bourbon ladder from Early Times.
Q. I'm going for the Derby; what are all these other horse races?
A. The Kentucky Derby is usually the 11th race of the day, so if you get there early, you will have quite a wait. And there are races after the Derby too, in part because they don't want everybody trying to leave at the same time. So they give you a couple of races to watch. And bet. Often the race card on Derby day will feature a lot of familiar names, so pay attention.
Q. How can I get on TV?
A. Be an athlete, famous or well-dressed (I mean really well-dressed) or wildly dressed. The cameras love huge crazy hats, pants, suits, dresses, etc. There is a man with a Twin Spires hat, complete with horses that race around the brim, who seems to get on TV every year.
Q. OK, you've talked me out of going to the Derby. But I still want to have a great time. What should I do?
A. If have a TV, you can have a swell Derby party at home and avoid all the traffic and even wear your shorts and flip-flops. Or, for just a little more effort, go to Keeneland and picnic out there. Keeneland bills its annual event as "The World's Largest Derby Party."