On the first Saturday in May, thousands of people will flock to Louisville, Kentucky to watch “the most exciting two minutes in sports.” SherpaReport spoke to executives at three private aviation companies to find out about demand for flights to this year’s Kentucky Derby.

Churchill Downs home of the Kentucky Derby 

Wheels Up Sees Surge

Ken Hogan, Executive Vice-President of Marketing with Wheels Up, says that they always see a surge in flight demand for certain sporting events, and the Kentucky Derby is no exception. “A large contingent of members” are interested in attending. At the time of writing, “dozens of flights” to Louisville have been booked, and Hogan says that bookings will continue right up to the last possible minute.

One attractive feature to many Wheels Up members is the ability to fly into Louisville on Saturday morning, enjoy an entire day at the races, and then fly home after the Derby. “They can be home in time to put the children to bed, and so that really maximizes their weekend time,” says Hogan. The King Air 350i is proving especially popular, allowing groups of up to 8 to attend the race-day festivities. Flying with Wheels Up also allows members to avoid the crowds and rush that one would encounter when flying commercially to the race.

NetJets Expects Repeat of Previous Years’ Interest

For Ohio-based NetJets, the Kentucky Derby has proven to be a popular destination among members in previous years, with 131 bookings to Louisville for the race in both 2016 and 2015. Kristyn Wilson, Vice-President of Communications with Netjets, expects to see similar numbers this year, based on the bookings that have already been made. Whereas Wheels Up members primarily enjoy flying in and out on the same day, Netjets sees their busiest days on the Thursday prior to the Derby and the Sunday afterward. This gives guests time to relax, take in a little more of Louisville, and perhaps visit one of the region’s famed bourbon distilleries, before flying home.

Sentient Sees Growth as They Add Special Event to Derby

Sentient Jet has partnered with the Kentucky Derby this year to be the event’s Preferred Private Aviation Partner. This is the second year that they have engaged in such a partnership and management are already seeing increased interest. Andrew Collins, President and CEO of Sentient Jet, says, “So far, we have continued to see overwhelming interest in attending the Kentucky Derby from our cardholders. This year, we already have almost as many flights booked almost three weeks before the Derby as we did in total for the races last year.” Since many travelers make their plans much closer to the date of the event, they expect to see a new record attendance.

Sentient flyers typically fly in on Thursday and leave on Sunday, giving them a long weekend to enjoy. They can also enjoy several special bonuses while in Louisville. On Saturday, May 6, celebrity chef Bobby Flay will be preparing an exclusive Derby Day Breakfast for Sentient Jet cardholders at the city’s 21c Museum Hotel. In addition to a fine southern breakfast, guests will enjoy a specially-designed bourbon cocktail, and Flay’s tips for the big race.

“Kentucky is a special place to me. It brings to mind three of my favorite things: bourbon, thoroughbreds and amazing southern food,” said Flay. “I’m thrilled to be able to kick off one of America's greatest sporting events with Sentient Jet on the first Saturday of May with the first meal of that day, a breakfast fit for the Derby.”

Cardholders can also buy tickets to The Mansion, the exclusive secret clubhouse at Churchill Downs, and to other VIP Derby events.

If you are planning a trip to the Kentucky Derby or to another large national event, planning ahead is always worthwhile to give you the flights you want, when you want.