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Flowers at the Kentucky Derby

Woman wearing an extravagant hat with flowers on it at a horse race

It’s Kentucky Derby time! So grab your mint julep, don your most impressive hat, and get ready to see which horse takes home this year’s roses. Regardless if you’re a diehard derby fan or a newcomer to the country’s longest-running sporting event, you probably don’t know everything about the Run for the Roses. And that’s why you’re here!

We’ll cover all things Kentucky Derby flowers, from long-standing floral traditions to a few modern decor ideas for your race-watching party. When you’re done reading, you’ll be ready to order a few spring flower bouquets to decorate. Plus, you’ll have the intel to explain the history and meaning of the Derby’s famous red roses.

Flower Traditions at the Kentucky Derby

When you think of the Kentucky Derby, elegant hats, bourbon, and fast horses probably come to mind. But there’s a reason why this race is known as the Run for the Roses! The following floral traditions are a key part of the Kentucky Derby.

Blanket of Roses

When the winning horse and jockey cross the finish line, they don’t just receive a round of applause and the coveted gold trophy. Race officials also recognize the winning team by blanketing them with hundreds of red roses.

The roots of this long-standing tradition date all the way back to 1883. After this race, ladies attending a Derby party in Louisville received stems of red roses. The ladies marveled over these flowers so much that the track president declared the red rose the official flower of the 1884 Derby. 

Despite this link between the rose and the Derby, race officials didn’t drape flowers over the winning horse and jockey until 1896. The exact type and arrangement of flowers varied over the years, but in 1925, New York Times writer Bill Corum referred to the race as the Run for the Roses. And it stuck. 

The rose blanket that we know today started in 1932 when Churchill Downs officials commissioned florist Grace Walker to make the rose arrangement for the winners. Walker and her team sewed over 500 red roses onto a cloth blanket. When the winners crossed the finish line, they were blanketed with the impressive floral display.

A new rendition of the rose blanket began in 1987 when officials invited “master designers” from the Kroger grocery store chain to create the blanket. These designers spent an entire night sowing roses onto the blanket in an area open to public viewing. This tradition continues to this day.

The blanket of roses weighs over 40 pounds and spans 122 inches long by 22 inches wide. One side of the blanket sports the Kentucky state seal, while the other side contains the Kentucky Derby event mark. Although it’s created the night before the race, the designers keep the flowers fresh by placing each stem into a tiny jar of water.

Crown and Bouquet of Roses

Along with the blanket of roses, each winning team also receives a crown of roses and greenery. The crown contains a rose for each horse in the race and one extra tall rose to represent the tenacity and courage a horse must possess in order to step into the Winner’s Circle.

After winning the Kentucky Derby, the jockey receives a bouquet of 60 long stem red roses wrapped in 10 feet of ribbon.

Host a Kentucky Derby Party with Flowers

If you aren’t in Churchill Downs for the Derby, don’t think you can’t enjoy the spectacle surrounding the race. All you have to do is decorate your house, broadcast the race, and invite over some friends for a watch party. Although bourbon, pimento cheese, and other Kentucky delights are surely on the menu, decorating for a Derby party can be a bit more challenging.

These flower decor ideas will capture the heart of the Derby.

A Red Rose for Every Guest

Just like the crown contains a red rose for each horse that enters the big race, you can create an arrangement that is an ode to your guests. Purchase one red rose for each guest, then arrange the flowers with some greenery to create an elegant bouquet.

When your guests arrive, have them bet on the winning horse. While betting on the winner is one way to do it, more than one guest may select the winner. That’s where a trifecta can come in hand. In this method, each person guesses which horse will finish first, second, and third, so there’s less chance two people will tie.

Of course, the winner takes home the bouquet!

Create Your Own Floral Hats

It’s not a Kentucky Derby party without extravagant hats! To keep with the combination of flowers and horses, pre-game the race by creating some floral hats. Tell each guest to bring an undecorated hat then order an array of cut flowers. Red roses are a must, but you can also include sturdy blooms like chrysanthemums and peonies.

Lay out the Kentucky Derby flowers on a table, then have your guests get to work creating their own floral hats! One option is to pin or glue the flowers directly to the hat, but you can also glue floral foam to the hats then insert the flower stems into the foam.

If you’d like to spice up this decorating with a bit of competition, have all your guests vote on their favorite hat. Feel free to include multiple categories such as most beautiful, funniest, and most outrageous.

Celebrate with Spring Flowers

While the red rose is synonymous with the Kentucky Derby, this race is also a sign of spring. The Derby occurs on the first Saturday of May when spring flowers like peonies, tulips, and lilacs are blooming. If you’d like to mix things up from the traditional roses, go ahead and bring some of these spring favorites indoors.

Placing a few small bouquets around the house will fill the house with hints of spring and serve as a perfect accompaniment for mint julips. While you’re at it, why not mix in a few refreshing mint sprigs or flowers into your bouquets?

Celebrate with Kentucky Derby Flowers

Whether you’re planning the Derby watch party of the century or planning on watching the Run for the Roses by yourself, remember to make flowers a part of your celebration. You can keep things class with red roses or mix it up with beautiful blooms like ranunculus and lilies.

And once the winner is crowned, don’t forget to keep flowers in mind for upcoming graduations and birthdays! The Bouqs offers a wide range of bouquets for delivery as well as multiple flower subscriptions. And if you need a bit of help determining what to write on flower card messages, we can assist with that too!

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