This weekend the 140th Kentucky Derby will take place at the world’s most legendary racetrack, Churchill Downs. I thought of this great day of racing today when a story about California Chrome showed up on my Yahoo homepage today. After reading the online article, I couldn’t help but think of last May when my son and I visited the iconic twin spires at Churchill Downs. Going to the Kentucky Derby had been on my bucket list for as long as I could remember, so despite the fact that it was the Friday before Memorial Day, and the Kentucky Derby had already passed (it is always the first Saturday of May), I was still looking forward to race horses, colorful jockeys, big hats, Derby pie, the sound of the bugle & hearing three simple words, “And they’re off!” to start the fastest two minutes in sports.
We arrived at Churchill Downs around two o’clock in the afternoon which was perfect timing since the first race was around 2:45 pm. After we had paid our $3 general admission fee we grabbed an official program and headed over to the Paddock to listen to the racing analyst, Jill Byrne and to watch the interactions of the owners, trainers, and jockeys. We scored some very comfy deep wicker chairs under a pergola next to the beautiful flowered paddock and watched the trainers lead the race horses and their jockeys around the circle to the tunnel that leads out to the racetrack.
I decided to go with NOLA Girl, #7 for Race One. I could pretend that I based my decision on Jill Byrne’s review which stated that NOLA Girl had good outside speed, but honestly what led me to place my wager of a whopping $2 was the fact that I grew up in Louisiana and #7 is a lucky number. Louisiana luck prevailed with NOLA Girl coming in second. The race was lickety split, but at the same time quite thrilling as we screamed from the stands as she crossed the finish line.
We watched a few more races before strolling around the perfectly manicured Aristides Gardens which had a statue of Aristides, the American Thoroughbred racehorse who won the first Kentucky Derby in 1875. Wanting to know more about the history of the Kentucky Derby we headed over to the Kentucky Derby Museum. General admission was $14 for myself and $11 for my son who was considered a young adult. Included in the fee was a 360-degree 17-minute film titled “The Greatest Race.” Viewing the film was such a unique experience because we felt like we were at the Kentucky Derby as the time lapsed film brought us from dawn to dusk circling us as we sat in the middle of the room. The movie in the round took my breath away and brought the Derby alive.
Also, included in the admission was the 30 minute Historic Walking Tour. The best part of the tour was seeing ”Mine that Bird” (won 2009) and the other resident horses. Our guide spent a half hour talking about her life and past horse races at the Derby.
The Kentucky Derby Museum is exemplary. Several interactive exhibits also include multimedia. Some of our favorite exhibits were “It’s my Derby,” “Place your Bets,” “Riders Up” and “Triple Crown.” In “It’s my Derby” we were able to look back at an array of Derby hats and some outfits worn to the festivities.
“Place your Bets” would have come in handy when I had placed my wager earlier in the day. This exhibit explained the strategies of handicapping and was interactive where we could place our bets and see how our luck played out by watching a race. ”Riders Up” was also interactive where my son and I raced each other trying to maintain a jockey’s stance. My son thought I looked hysterical.
I enjoyed the “Triple Crown” exhibit where I was able to learn about the traditions of the three historic Triple Crown races – The Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes.
The museum also housed a gift shop and the Derby Cafe. Unfortunately, it was late in the afternoon, so the Derby Cafe was already closed (it closed at 3 p.m.), so we headed to the Trackside Cafe where I was able to sample some Derby Pie. The signature dessert of the Kentucky Derby combines rich semi-sweet chocolate with English walnuts for a truly decadent experience.
After indulging, we finished off our visit by shopping at the Churchill Downs Store. No surprise, we both ended up with hats.
Even though we visited Churchill Downs outside of the Kentucky Derby, we really had a fabulous afternoon. Honestly, I don’t think we would have had as much fun if we had visited on the Derby. We were able to quickly move around the grounds and watch the races, enjoy the museum and tour without crowds, and enjoy the 70 degree sunshine on comfy furniture as we sat in the Paddock watching the horses before they headed off to race. Our day at the races turned out to be splendid. As you know from my previous post, my son is a baseball fan and enjoyed the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory, but he said that he had a better time at Churchill Downs. This was music to my ears, since he initially didn’t want to head to the legendary racetrack. Sometimes, Mom really does know best.