Dawn at the Downs


Dawn at the Downs is an exciting way to get ready for the Kentucky Derby with your family by visiting Churchill Downs in the mornings leading up to Derby Day.


Dawn at the Downs free

There are free and paid options. You can purchase a ticket for the buffet and parking or enter for free at a gate and watch.

It seems for 2021, Dawn at the Down is a little different. You can watch horses work out on the track at Churchill Downs for FREE. Daily 7-10am, park in the white lot and enter through the paddock gate. Oaks and Derby contenders work out earliest, 7:30-7:45. This is FREE now through Wednesday April 28. You may bring food in with you April 17-April 23 for these morning workouts – coffee and donuts anyone? 

Churchill Downs does have a Dawn at the Downs menu for April 25 and 26. So, you can still go in for free for the workouts but these are dates during which you cannot bring in food. If you want to do breakfast and watch the horses workout, they offer this on 4/25 and 4/26 from 6:30-8:30am. The menu can be found here

The following information is from past years. 

We have Dawn at the Downs tips for you! Do you want to watch the Oaks and Kentucky Derby contenders prepare for the big races? You can do that Tuesday – Thursday of Derby week. Click here to get tickets that include parking and a breakfast buffet. Parking for ticket holders will be in the turquoise lot and will enter through the Clubhouse gate. For 2019, the breakfast buffet experience is $45. During your time there, announcers will tell you which horses are entering the track and evaluating their workouts and telling you about the horses.

Here’s what you need to know if you purchase tickets?

  • Dining seats are not assigned, it is first come first serve at your table unless you at in the Stakes Room at the window tables.
  • If you purchase the buffet, it is available for three hours from the time the games open (6:30 am, so the buffet closes at 9:30 am).
  • The buffet includes non-alcoholic drinks and there is a cash bar.
  • Attire depends on where you will be based on your tickets. Check here prior to going!
  • You will be asked to vacate when this event is over, it does not include all day admission.

What else do you need to know for free entry?

  • Gates open at 6:30 am, it is free for no seats, no dining access.
  • Be there by 7:30 am, that’s about when the Derby horses will go out.
  • Most people stay until around 9 am
  • You may enter at any gate but locals like to watch from the backside of the track. For those not familiar, this is the area on the opposite side of the grandstands where the barns are located, along S. 4th Street and Longfield Ave.
  • Starting in 2018, outside food and drink are not permitted (confirmed via Churchill Downs on 4/29/19)
    • Concessions stands will be open!
  • There is no parking lot at Churchill Downs for free parking for Dawn at the Downs, you must find outside parking (confirmed via Churchill Downs on 4/29/19).
    • If you arrive early enough, you have a better chance of finding free street parking. Or, if you don’t mind walking, you can just keep exploring further away from the track to find parking on the street. There are tons of little side streets.
    • Many locals will charge $10-$20 to park in their yards the week of Derby, even for Dawn at the Downs. Be prepared with cash if you want to utilize this option.
  • Attire is not enforced for this aspect of Dawn at the Downs. Dress for the weather!
  • You must vacate when Dawn at the Downs is over, approximately 9:30 am.

Looking for more spring fun? Click here!

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