Time flies (tempus fugit) when fun is being had. Most of the time, I feel that horse racing is definitely cruelty to animals. But the race horses are magnificent animals, and I am willing to set aside my personal feelings for the “most exciting two minutes in sports.”
Gerry (comments in bold)
Emails from our trip to Churchill Downs back in 2008.
We are headed to Louisville, Kentucky on some free United tickets we got last year when we voluntarily bumped ourselves off of a flight to Washington DC. We do not know what to expect, but we hear the Kentucky Derby is the largest party in the world (it is) and the most exciting two minutes in sports (ditto). We also hear that there is a famous horse race that day as well. I bought two grandstand tickets on eBay, just in case the big party in the infield gets a little too crazy. The guy we bought the tickets from is a microbrewmeister from Chicago, and we are invited to his pre-party about 2-3 blocks from the Churchill Downs Racetrack on Saturday.
We hope to see how Maker’s Mark bourbon is made (we did), visit the Louisville slugger (baseball bat)museum and the Muhammad Ali center. We want to get a taste of famous Kentucky home cooking, including a visit to Colonel Harland Sanders (recipe developed in 1939) and his Kentucky Fried Chicken (no way, Jose’). Kentucky’s bourbon trail is also known for Jim Beam and Wild Turkey brands.
Kaelin’s in Louisville claims to have invented the cheeseburger in 1934, served with homemade potato chips. Two famous drinks here are the Mint Julep and the Kentucky Cocktail (not bad, but I still prefer champagne), a mix of bourbon and the local Ale-8-One ginger soda.
Most people think Louisville is the capital of Kentucky, but it is a little town of 30,000 called Frankfort. Only 4 million people live here in Loo-ville, as the locals say. Kentucky is also the home of Fort Knox, and the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, among other famous people. Bowling Green, KY is where Corvettes are made. So, tune in, NBC at 3pm PDT on Saturday for the race. Look for us around the 1/16th pole! Go Big Brown!
Letter from a dear friend:
First of all I love getting your travelogues – a refreshing break from life in Winston-Salem.
You’ll have a ball and beware of those mint juleps – they go down very smoothly on a hot day and you’ll be trashed before you know it. Some suggestions:
1. Try to visit one of the big breeder farms and specifically ask to see a breeding session. There are very strict rules that Thoroughbreds must be conceived “naturally” and although the “stud” is given some (ahem!) guidance by one or two trainers, it is truly an eye-opener and will be the source of excellent jokes throughout the weekend. We went to the Gaines farm (Dogfood titans) and really enjoyed it.
2. Try to go to Keeneland Farms if you have time. This is a much smaller and much prettier track than Churchill Downs and is also where the largest and most prestigious thoroughbred sale takes place every year. You can knock this out in an hour or two and there’s a ton of Thoroughbred history there.
Watch out for those juleps and have a great time.
Back to my story:
Derby Day (5/3/08)
We finally arrived in Louisville around dinner time on Thursday. Our plane to Chicago from Denver was late due to de-icing, so we literally ran from the B concourse to the C. We were the last 2 on the plane, just as they were calling the standbys. The overhead storage was filled with hat boxes.
We got to our hotel east of Louisville, had some dinner, and met up with the guy we bought the tickets from. He brought the tickets by, and invited us to his big pre-Derby beer party near the track. Anyway, really nice guy and his wife, along with 5 car loads of friends. We decided to take a shuttle bus on race day, which ended up being an old school bus driven by a nice Korean fellow from Boston. I strongly advise against the old yellow school bus.
We spent Friday just getting familiar with downtown Louisville. During our breakfast downtown at the Marriott, the waitress told us they were selling Derby hats upstairs. Off we went just for a look. A few dollars later, and Sheri had the neatest/fanciest Derby hat (and expensive) you can imagine, made from a man’s fedora!!
We also looked around the revived downtown area, highlighted by Fourth Street Live, an area with clubs and restaurants. We strolled Muhammad Ali Blvd, and had a bourbon at Maker’s Mark Lounge. A big storm was headed our way, so we went back to the hotel. It thundered and showered all afternoon, night, and into Derby Day morning.
But we arrived at Churchill Downs around 11am Derby Day to bright sun, dry track conditions, and a real experience. We saw so many women with fancy hats and outfits. The hats almost overshadowed the Derby itself. How do these women walk around for 10 hours in high heels? The parade of horses paled in comparison to the parade of stylishly dressed ladies. Needless to say, it is a real party atmosphere. Lots of beer, mint juleps, champagne, and wine, along with southern BBQ meats, and lobster sandwiches.
The really hearty partiers sit/stand/pass out in the infield, where admission is $40. We saw a bunch of guys bring an old couch into the infield, just so they would have a place to sit!! The local TV stations broadcast live the entire day, both Friday and Saturday. All local businesses run Derby promos of some sort all week long. We met a nice lady on the plane who was going to sit in a luxury box with her boyfriend and his business clients. Seats and boxes are handed down several generations.
As the big moment got closer, most people got to their assigned seats. When the horses walked by the first time, everybody stood on their seats to get a good look. With twenty horses, it was a very large parade. I decided to bet the favorite, Big Brown, and two longshots, just in case. The handle just on the Derby was $26 million at the track, plus another $15 million for the exacta. No wonder the lines at the ATM’s were longer than the beer and food lines.
We were sitting/standing about where Big Brown made his BIG move past the leaders, and on to the stretch run. We fortunately missed the tragic breakdown of the filly down the backstretch. It was a sad ending to a really exciting day. We were able to cash in on Big Brown’s win. He, along with Seattle Slew and Secretariat will always be my favorite Derby winners.
We did not see any big sports or movie stars. But the VIP’s are led to their seats by a guy carrying a sign on a long pole. Everybody wants to know who they are, but nobody seems to know (or care).
If you ever get the chance, we would recommend going, wear a fancy hat, and enjoy a very friendly and gracious part of the south. The food is not the greatest, but the bourbon is smooth and plentiful. People everywhere are helpful and friendly, even the rednecks. The only down side is that Kentucky seems to have the largest percentage of smokers I have ever seen, outside of North Carolina. Our friend James recommended going to a stud farm to observe the activities. We ran out of time. Maybe we created our own stud farm!