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, which ended up being an old yellow school bus driven by a nice Korean fellow from Boston.
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 (many) dollars later, and Sheri had the neatest/fanciest Derby hat 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 Muhammed 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 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.
I will send photos in a day or two. It will be mostly hats, since the hats were just over the top. Over and out.