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Kentucky Derby: Words and etiquette you should know before heading to the racetrack

If it's your first time at the Kentucky Derby, here are a few facts to get you started.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — For many locals, going to Churchill Downs is like going to the grocery store - you know where to go and what to do. However, if this year is your first Kentucky Derby, walking through those gates could feel more like walking into a foreign country - thousands of people speaking a language you don't understand.

So, for all the newbies out there, these are the Derby basics. If Churchill Downs was a university, this would be the freshman year 101 class - giving you enough knowledge that you can talk at the track without looking like a total "dummy."

To help us out, we've recruited a face that long-time viewers of WHAS11 are sure to recognize: Gary Roedemeier.

Roedemeier spent 25 years as an anchor and reporter for WHAS, and even though he's technically retired now, he's still our resident Derby expert.

Credit: WHAS11

What is a furlong?

Horse races are categorized in terms of "furlongs," which is a measurement term. One furlong equals an eighth of a mile. The Kentucky Derby is a mile and a quarter, so it's 10 furlongs.

What kind of horses run in the Kentucky Derby?

Derby horses are exclusively three-year-old Thoroughbreds. A Thoroughbred is a specific breed of horse that was developed in England in the 17th and 18th centuries. These horses are known for their agility and speed, which makes them ideal for racing.

Who chooses what horses get to run in the Derby? To earn a spot in the starting gate, each horse must complete a series of designated races at tracks across the country and around the world. Points are awarded to the top four finishers in each race. The 20 horses with the most points will get to run in the Kentucky Derby.

What do I wear to the Derby?

Worried that you'll stand out like a sore thumb with what you're wearing? You'd have to try pretty hard.

"I've often told people who are coming to the Kentucky Derby that nothing at the Derby is inappropriate," Roedemeier said. "If you look at the infield, and the dress of the people who are coming - you know, you want to dress appropriately, for TV - but you're going to see the wildest craziest outfits you've ever seen."

Need some inspiration? Check out this gallery of fashion from the 144th Derby.

If it's your first year at the Derby and you don't feel like you have everything down, don't worry about it! At the end of the day, the best thing you can do is listen and absorb as much information as you can. Horse racing is a statistics-driven sport, and you'll learn a lot about it as you go.

If you want to try your hand at betting while you're at the track, check back tomorrow and we'll give you some tips to get you started.

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