Friday, 6/17/11 - This one will be a "most favorite" day of the trip. I grew up watching the Kentucky Derby and loved going to the Fresno Fair (years ago) with "the girls" to bet on the horses. So today, was a "bucket list" item, visit Churchill Downs where the "Derby" is run. And I will say, the day did NOT disappoint!
We arrive around 9:45 am as it was only a 30 minute drive from Grandma's RV park. We found the museum parking lot, which is free if your are visiting the museum and headed into this gorgeous place that already looked so familiar to me. It is actually, Spring racing season now, which would limited tours, but today is evening racing, starting at 6:00 pm. They are trying to attract a younger crowd to the racetrack, so set up everywhere are bands and lots of entertainment, beside horse racing. Actually, the last race is run at 11:30 pm.
We entered the museum www.derbymuseum.org and bought the "trifecta of tours" which consists of - museum entrance, historic walking tour, barn and backside tour and behind the scenes tour.....this was an all day affair.
We first entered the museum and the entrance was the "coolest" - you walked through a green starting gate where the horse break for a race & right in front of you is a huge screen with the Kentucky Derby playing & the horses running right at you. It was fabulous! They have a room dedicated to the "hats" worn on derby day and so much history of Churchill Downs & the Kentucky Derby. We even placed a "bet" and watched a race....I got zip, Wills horse he bet on to win was second/placed. On the second floor the changing exhibit was about jockey, Willie Shoemaker. Lots of film of races, interviews with him and his life story. What is so unbelievable is he raced until the age of 54 and after retirement was in an automobile accident returning from a golf game and was paralyzed from the neck down.
Our first tour was the Barn and Backside Tour that lasted about 1 hour and we were driven in a van to see the racehorses. There are more than 1400 stalls and most are full during the racing season. I asked Natalie, our tour guide, if I could sit up front with her and she said yes, the picture taking was fabulous!!!! We saw horses being bathed, many of the people who work behind the scenes of the racetrack & where they live. We did not see any horses being exercised on the track as that is done between 6 am to 10 am. We did stop & get out and were able to take pictures from "the back side" of the track.
Our next tour was Behind the Scenes Tour that lasted 1 1/2 hours and was a walking tour. This one was probably the most interesting because we first went into the Jockey's Quarters. Two things, if it's a race day, there are no tours here, but because it is an evening race there were people and jockeys inside. Actually, we met jockey Calvin Borell's nephew that works in the jockey room (I got a picture.) We saw the beautiful racing silks, weight scales, the therapy room and our guide Barry said the jockey room is very original as horse people especially jockeys are very superstitious and want NOTHING changed. They say there has never been a Triple Crown Winner since Churchill Downs built a new paddock!
Next on our tour we headed for Millionaire's Row where the celebrities and VIPs watch the race. When Queen Elizabeth was here a few years ago, this was where she watched the race from & only would accept a White House dinner invitation if she could bring the winning jockey with her.....Calvin Borell and yes he went. Lots of very rich panelling throughout and a spectacular view of the track and twin spirals. They said that on Derby day 160 million, ALL IN CASH, is bet that day.
Next we headed into the Press Box area, which is at the highest level and the view from their balcony is something else. I must have taken 25 pictures of just the famous Twin Spirals from every angle possible. I went through 2 batteries on this trip.
The last tour was the Historic Tour which came with your museum entrance. We went into the betting areas, out into the winners circle, where the horses are brought after winning the race. The Kentucky Derby winner circle is separate from this and is only used on Derby day.
All in all this was a fabulous day and one we both really enjoyed. We were dead tired when we left Churchill Downs at about 3:30 pm but girlfriend, GPS got us home in record time....I drove. Much love to all family and friends.