The Kentucky Derby gets off and running today at Louisville's Churchill Downs, with the race set for 6:24 EST, to be exact. But before you place your bets or book your last-minute flights, here are five things you need to know about what they like to call "the greatest two minutes in sports."
1. The odds
You can't place a bet without knowing what you're in for, according to Huffington Post editorial director Howard Fineman.
"It doesn't matter if you are a Louisvillian, or a regular visitor, or a first-timer," wrote Fineman. "You are required to pick a horse, preferably a semi-obscure one, and have at the ready a plausible explanation — either impressively informed or simply wacko — for your cool choice."
This year, the buzz is all about Bob Baffert's Bodemeister, who is the race favorite with 4-1 odds, according to CBS Sports News. Other good gambles are Union Rags, who has 5-1 odds, and Gemologist, with 6-1 odds.
"Union Rags finished second at Churchill Downs last year," Derby expert Cary Fotias told CBS News. "In my gut, he's the best horse in the race. He's a big, big horse. Having to negotiate through a field of 19 other cranked up three-year-olds won't be easy."
Fotias clearly knows the "plausible explanation" rule.
More from GlobalPost: Kentucky Derby: Betting on Bodemeister (VIDEO)
2. The cost
If you plan on heading to Louisville, be prepared to shell out some serious cash. A week before race day, motels were priced at $500 per night, four or five times their usual rate, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. To really be luxurious, say, with a three-night stay at the Galt House Hotel in downtown Louisville, will run you up to $3,750.
Tickets to the race start at $65 per person, and go as high as $5,000, Businessweek reported.
The cheapest admission gets you onto the grounds, where you can watch races on TV screens, but the high-end tickets grant access to the Millionaires Row of Churchill Downs and a viewing platform, a gourmet buffet, a private wagering station, and an open bar. Which brings us to our next point...
3. The drink of choice
The mint julep has become almost as iconic of the Derby as the horses themselves. The refreshing cocktail — served in a traditional silver cup and made with sugar, fresh mint, and Kentucky Whiskey — became the signature cocktail of Churchill Downs in 1938, according to CocktailTimes. Back then, a julep cost 75 cents. Today, a mint julep at the track is $11, or $1,000 in a collectors glass.
For those who are looking for something a little bit stiffer, a shot of bourbon whiskey, Kentucky’s signature spirit, might do the trick. There are over 50 varieties of local bourbon available at the bars and restaurants on Louisville’s Urban Bourbon Trail, according to Bloomberg.
We'll cheers to that.
More from GlobalPost: Kentucky Derby: History of the mint julep
4. The hats
Since the Derby's inception in 1875, the parade of over-the-top, beyond-elegant hats have been a fixture of the event. For some women, it is more of a decision than betting on the races.
According to Hats.com, it was considered near necessity for men and women to have a hat on during special occasions and outdoor events, and the Kentucky Derby was definitely such an event. The toppers are also considered to be good luck, About.com reported.
"My husband's mother went to the Derby when she was a teenager — she's 98 years old — and she remembers the sea of hats," Sally Faith Steinmann, owner and milliner for Maggie Mae Designs, told CNN. "In our culture, we don't have all that many occasions like this. There is nothing like it, from the infield to Millionaire's Row."
Some of the event's most memorable hats are even on display at the Kentucky Derby Museum at Churchill Downs, according to CNN. You can't see or be seen at the races without one.
5. Where the action really is
For those who are really passionate about horses, Louisville actually isn't the place to be.
"Many of the notable breeding farms in Kentucky aren’t in Louisville," wrote Bloomberg's Benjamin Steverman. "They’re a 90-minute drive away near Lexington."
You can get a guided three-hour tour of the state's esteemed thoroughbred horse farms for $40, or combine booze and stables with a $75-per-person “Horses, Hooch, and History Tour," Bloomberg suggested.
There's also a two week-long festival leading up to the two-minute race, featuring parties, live music, and other non-horse related attractions.
May we suggest the Derby revamp its slogan to "the Greatest two weeks in sports?"
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