A Visit to Churchill Downs

It was decided a few months ago while planning our road trip vacation that we would make a stop at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.  Churchill Downs is home to the Kentucky Derby.  Our family has watched the running of the Kentucky Derby.  We have talked about the fancy hats and crazy outfits that show up on Derby day.  We discussed the horses running in the derby.  Where did they come from?  How did the horses make the trek to Kentucky?  What we didn’t know was the depth of the history that surrounds Churchill Downs. The track is named for John and Henry Churchill who leased 80 acres of land to their nephew Col. Merriweather Lewis, Jr. (grandson of the famed explorer William Clark).   In 1875, the first Kentucky Derby was run.  In 1883, the name Churchill Downs was first used to landmark the racetrack that is home of the Kentucky Derby.  Today, Churchill Downs Inc. holds the record for the longest-running continuous sporting event in the US.  The grounds of Churchill Downs holds the storied history of thoroughbred racing.

Upon entering the Kentucky Derby Museum, you can see the entrance of the museum and the gift shop.  The entrance of the museum is enticing because you can enter through the starting gates if you please.  The $15 price for the self-guided museum tour included the 360-degree movie entitled the greatest race and a 30-minute guided tour of the grounds at Churchill Downs.  It was easy to go through the museum at your own pace.  The displays included everything from the floral hats worn by the various celebrities over the years.  We learned about the materials that make up the track at Churchill Downs.  (Hint:  it’s not just a little bit of dirt.  There is actually a lot of science to the materials in the track.) We also saw this year’s winner of the Derby, Country Horse.  Or at least his stunt double that will be on display in the museum until the next running of the Derby.  We learned what the trainers and assistant trainers do to prepare their horses for race day.  We also learned about the jockeys room and their preparations for race day.

Throughout the museum, we found several hands-on exhibits that were fun for the whole family.  The first one was placing your bet for a fictional race.  No money was needed for the fun little game.  You walked up to the window to bet on your horses for a win-place-show.  Then you sat down and cheered as hopefully, your horse came out as the victor.  We went back a couple of times to place our bets to see if we could win.  The races were run every two to three minutes, so it was easy to jump in and try our luck.  The other hands-on exhibit was to be the jockey in your own race.  You chose one of three horses and followed the instructions on the screen.  Choices were what kind of horse you wanted to ride–an out of the gate or a closer.  Once again it was fun for the entire family.

Our next stop was going to be the 360-degree movie.  A word of warning for any sensory issues that the movie is loud.  P and I went to the second story of the museum where we could watch it from above.  It was a better easier to see and process from above.  The second story of the museum holds what seems like rotating exhibits.  We saw an exhibit on an owner and a jockey that have had great success at Churchill Downs.

The thirty-minute guided walking tour was a bit of a cluster.  It really depends on the number of people visiting at the same time as you.  We were in a big group of people with only one tour guide.  It took longer to get everyone in an area than it did to hear what the tour guide was telling us.  The good thing though we had a great tour guide who managed the large group with ease.  She carried a portable microphone so everyone had a chance to hear.  However, we got to see the paddock.  My husband commented on TV, the paddock area looks so much bigger.  No wonder the horses seem jittery or jumpy after exiting the paddock–it is full of people and journalists all jockeying (no pun intended) for a sight of the one horse who is expected to have a great showing in the race.

The final stop on the tour was going out to the track.  No one was allowed on the track, but we were in the first row.  We saw the twin spires that are synonymous with the derby.  Our guide pointed out the millionaire’s row and the owner’s seats.  A question was asked of the guide, “What else happens on derby day?”  I thought that was a great question because the race itself is two-minutes.  I always thought that a whole lot of hoopla for two minutes.  I now stand corrected.  There are 14 races held on derby day, according to our guide.  She also added that bands or other entertainment will happen in between races.  All of that leads up to the race that everyone came to see.

Prior to our stop at Churchill Downs, I would classify us as casual derby fans who had a little knowledge about horse racing.  We really knew nothing about Churchill Downs.  After our stop, we all agreed next year’s derby will be very exciting.  It was one of our favorite stops on our vacation that we highly recommend to anyone who is traveling in the area.

All my best to you,



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