Annual festival brings Derby tradition to Lexington

By Chelsea O’Connor

Sixteen hot air balloons will illuminate the night Friday after a week of events during the annual Little Kentucky Derby.

Hosted by the Student Activities Board, the festival celebrates the arrival and the competitiveness of the upcoming Kentucky Derby. The events begin today and continue through Saturday.

“The Little Kentucky Derby is all about bringing a tradition that is so well-known in the state to the University of Kentucky,” said Grace Hahn, president of the Student Activities Board. “We really want to create a great atmosphere between UK and the Lexington community.”

The six-day festival includes games, a cookout and music, along with annual favorites.

On Wednesday, students are invited to participate in the popular Ping Pong Drop, where more than 3,000 ping-pong balls will be dropped from Patterson Office Tower. Prizes for finding the balls specially marked with logos include T-shirts and tickets to the O.A.R. concert on April 23.

Thursday will feature a test of students’ campus knowledge during a version of “The Amazing Race,” based off the CBS series. Teams of four will participate in a scavenger hunt throughout campus beginning at 7 p.m.

A golf scramble will be held at Picadome Golf Course off South Broadway on Friday beginning at noon. Teams must register online by Wednesday at the Student Activities Board Web site ( The cost is $35 for students and $50 for the general public, and includes equipment rental and lunch.

“People should come out to the entire festival because it is completely different than anything else on campus,” Hahn said.

Friday night features the Little Kentucky Derby’s main event — the Balloon Glow Field Party — that will host 16 hot air balloons, grounded and illuminated, alongside an outdoor concert.

The week will conclude with several events, beginning at 7 a.m. Saturday with  a hot air balloon race starting at the Arboretum. Events will continue at 3 p.m. in the E.S. Good Barn Field located at the corner of Alumni Drive with a carnival, outdoor food, music and crafts. A second balloon race from E.S. Good Barn Field will begin at 6 p.m.

“In the last two years we have seen a great turnout from the local community and we are expecting it to grow even bigger,” said Ben VanderHorst, director of traditions for Student Activities Board.

VanderHorst encouraged students to get involved by participating in the contests, joining a team for the race, or volunteering to help crew the hot air balloons.

The Little Kentucky Derby opens today with the unveiling of elementary students’ artwork. The pieces, featuring the children’s renditions of hot air balloons, will be on display until Friday from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. outside the Center Theater in the Student Center.