127th KENTUCKY DERBY
When: May 5 at Churchill Downs, Louisville, Ky.
Getting There: United offers nonstop flights from Dulles to Louisville from $185 round trip; other carriers provide connecting service for about $120. Seats are selling fast, so you might have to be very flexible. Other options: Fly to Cincinnati and drive an hour, or road-trip more than 600 miles southwest from D.C.
Admission: Reserved seating is sold out, but written requests for 2002 will be accepted the day after the derby until Sept. 1. You can also order tickets through a ticket agent (see below).
Unlimited general admission ($40) is available on race day, allowing access to the paddock area and the infield (expect a rowdy crowd). Gates open at 8 a.m.
Where to Stay: Louisville offers a veritable stable of lodging choices, from chains to bed-and-breakfasts -- but most hotels require three-night stays and B&Bs are now wait-list only. Thrifty Travel Dutchman (3357 Fern Valley Rd., 502-968-8124) is offering a double room Thursday-Sunday for $550, while singles at the Super 8 (4800 Preston Hwy., 502-968-0088) are going for $423 for three nights with breakfast. Check derby and tourism offices (see below) for a list of accommodations. Atlas Cruises & Tours (800-942-3301,www.atlastravel.com) has a four-day package for $1,240 per person (tickets and air extra). All were available at press time.
Inside Track: To fit in with the horsey set, dress dapper -- think Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan. And ladies, don't forget your topper, which must match your outfit. Infielders, however, can dress more like "Let's Make a Deal" contestants (i.e., hats adorned with plastic horses) . . . Memorize "My Old Kentucky Home," since the Army band only provides the music . . . Visit the Kentucky Derby Museum (704 Central Ave., 502-637-7097; $7, closed on race day), which has a miniature horse out back.
Cocktail of Choice: Mint Julep (sugar syrup, Early Times Bourbon, mint, crushed ice), preferably in a sterling silver tumbler, though the track serves its version in a commemorative glass.
Info: Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau: 888-LOUISVILLE, www.louisville-visitors.com; Churchill Downs, 502-636-4400, www.kyderby.com.
126th PREAKNESS STAKES
When: May 19at Pimlico Race Course, Baltimore.
Getting There: Take I-95 north to 695 west (Baltimore Beltway), then Exit 18 east to Lochearn (Liberty Road). Go left on Northern Parkway, right on Park Heights Avenue and another left on Hayward Avenue. Drive time: one hour.
Admission: You can reserve $55 concourse seats (outside, undercover) by phone or mail, though spots are limited. You'll have better luck in the infield ($30 advance, $35 on race day), the clubhouse ($18) or the grandstand ($15, standing-room only).
Inside Track: Get in the spirit with a week's worth of festivities May 11-19, including a crab derby and a parade . . . After the horses cross the finish line, look skyward at the Old Clubhouse cupola to watch an official paint the colors of the winner's silks onto a horse-shaped weather vane.