Top 5 Kentucky Derby Festival Events

Black-Eyed Susan Day
Eclipse Sportswire/Getty Images

Every year, the two weeks of the Kentucky Derby Festival are packed with dozens of different events. However, not all of the events are as big and anticipated as others. If you're trying to decide what Kentucky Derby Festival events to attend, you're going to want to know the five most anticipated and exciting Kentucky Derby Festival events.

  • 01 of 05
    Kentucky Derby Opening Ceremonies - Thunder Over Louisville
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    Each year, close to half a million people gather around Louisville's riverfront to watch Thunder Over Louisville--the largest fireworks show in the world and the opening event for the Kentucky Derby Festival. The 28-minute fireworks show is preceded by the Thunder Air Show, one of the top five air shows in the country. The Thunder Air Show features more than 100 planes performing hours of diving and acrobatic stunts.

  • 02 of 05

    Marathon and miniMarathon

    (c) Steve Lovegrove - Image from

    The 26.2 mile Derby Marathon and the 12 mile Derby miniMarathon are two of the top annual Kentucky Derby Festival events. More than 12,000 people from all over the world gather together on the last Saturday in April to run one of these two scenic marathons through Louisville's parks and neighborhoods and past some of the city's biggest attractions. The Kentucky Derby Festival miniMarathon is the more popular of the two races and has been named among the nation's top 50 races by USA Track and Field.

  • 03 of 05
    U.S. Bank Derby Festival Great Balloon Glow
    Stephen J. Cohen /Getty Images

    The Great Balloon Fest is a series of five Kentucky Derby Festival events that lead up to the main event--the Great Balloon Race. The first Great Balloon Race was held at Iroquois Park in 1973 and featured only seven balloons. However, the Great Balloon Race quickly became one of the most popular Kentucky Derby Festival events, and what was once just the Great Balloon Race is now an entire weekend festival of hot air ballooning events. Each of these events is free with a Pegasus Pin, though you may be required to pay a parking fee.

  • 04 of 05
    Kentucky Derby Festival's Great Steamboat Race prior to this year's Kentucky Derby
    LuAnn Snawder Photography/Flickr

    The Great Steamboat Race is an annual Kentucky Derby Festival event that occurs on the Wednesday before the Kentucky Derby. It is a race down the Ohio River between the Belle of Louisville the Belle of Cincinnati. Prior to 2009, the Belle of Louisville raced the Delta Queen in the Great Steamboat Race, but new federal regulations forced the Delta Queen to dock permanently at the end of 2008. It is now being kept as a hotel in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

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  • 05 of 05
    2011 Pegasus Parade

    The Kentucky Derby Festival Pegasus Parade was the first ever event of the Kentucky Derby Festival. Though the festival has grown since the days where it consisted of just the parade and the Derby and Oaks races, the Pegasus Parade remains one of the biggest and best Kentucky Derby Festival events. Parade participants march, walk, and roll down Broadway in Downtown Louisville while spectators watch the amazing series of floats, inflatable characters, marching bands, celebrities, and horses pass by.