Wednesday, May 2, 2012

5/2/2012 Touring Churchill Downs


Actually, we toured Churchill Downs and the Museum attached to it.


We aren’t staying all that far from the racetrack, however, because so many tourists are in town for the Derby and spending time touring the Museum, traffic is near gridlock.

We noticed several blocks away from the track that people were motioning us to park in their yards for $5.00. As we got closer the price went up to $10.00. Just across the street from the track the price was $20.00. We just ready to turn into the track parking lot when this fellow yelled to us, “Wait a minute, if you park over there its going to be $30 but if you park here it’s only $20.” Hmmmm,,,something to think about. 30,,, 20,,, 30,,, 20…seemed like a no brainer to me. Twenty won out and turned into the guys yard.

Parked, GPS stashed, locked up, we were ready.

When we crossed the street we were greeted by the horse that all of America fell in love with and mourned. Barbaro.


Inside, we paid for our tickets. Discount taken of course. We showed our military ID’s even though we would have gotten the exact same discount had we taken the one for seniors. Seniors here count as anyone 55 or over. I’ll still take the Military thank you very much. It just sounds better to me.

We had about 15 minutes before our tour started so we checked out some of the exhibits right off the lobby.

The first exhibit we came to was all about hats. On Derby Day it’s a close run between horses and hats as to what has more attention paid to it.



The first two? Maybe. This next one, not a snowballs chance! There was even one with horses back end on it but I couldn’t get anywhere near that one.


Next we came to an exhibit about the blanket of roses given to the winning horse.


Presented to the winner of the Kentucky Derby, the Garland of Roses is one of the most coveted floral arrangements in the world. Now somehow I would think that some fancy, shmancy florist would have the contract for making the garland. Not so! The Garland of Roses is made by the gals in the local Kroger Grocery Store Floral Shoppe. I would have never guessed that. Each garland is made of exactly 564 “Freedom” roses, each attached to an individual water vial and wrapped in fabric covered with foliage. Once sewn, the two plus yards of fabric are lined with green satin then embroidered with the Twin Spires logo of Churchill Downs and the seal of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. A rose for each horse running in the derby is centered in the middle of the garland.

It was time for our actual tour to start so we met up with our group and guide. First stop was the Paddock.


It’s here where horses who are getting ready to race are walked around to calm them down, where their jockey’s mount them and where they are brought to after the race for cool down. And most important of all, this is where people with cameras can take close up pictures of these beautiful animals.



Scenes from around the paddock.



From here we were taken to the track itself.




We were able to watch a race while in the grandstands.






These gates stand empty now but come Saturday, thousands will pass through here. Thousands. Thousands of people and millions of dollars. Millions.


We passed a sculpture of a horse named Eight Belles.


She collapsed after placing second in the 2008 Kentucky Derby. She was put down right on the track because her injuries were so traumatic she couldn’t be moved.

There was quite a controversy after this horse collapsed after the race. It was said about her that she ran with the heart of a locomotive on champagne glass ankles. The practice of breeding came under great scrutiny after this incident.

The “Finish Line Pole” that was used from 1956 to 1985 was reinstalled after it was replaced by new construction.


A total of 30 Kentucky Derby winners were ushered into the Winner’s Circle after passing this finish line pole. Needles was the first in 1956. This pole was also in use for the first leg of three Triple Crown winners Secretariat (1973). Seattle Slew (1977), and Affirmed (1978).

We then walked past the Kentucky Derby Walk of Champions.


This is the final resting place for a group of past Derby winners. Did you know that, typically, when a horse dies only the head, heart and hooves are laid to rest?

  • The head represents the will to win

  • The heart represents courage

  • The hooves represents speed

We also learned that rarely is a horse buried whole. That honor is held for horses of real distinction. Three Derby winners have been laid to rest this way. Secretariat, Man O’ War and Seattle Slew. In fact only Man O’ War had an actual funeral complete with viewing with over 2000 in attendance. The horse was embalmed, laid in its casket, viewed and buried.

There is a resident thoroughbred in residence at the track. His name is Perfect Drift. There must a reason he’s here but I don’t know what it is because he has an owner and goes there in the winter.


We went back inside at this point as our tour was over and the sun was getting hot.

Jockey “silks” on display.


There is an exhibit that gives everyone a chance to be a jockey.


I talked Bob into trying his luck. He was reluctant because of his back but he gave it a try.


Waiting for the race to start. On the handle he is holding are three buttons. One is to turn the horse to the left, one for the right and one for the whip to make the horse go faster.

And there off!


Bob placed! I’m sure he was longshot and paid a bundle.


After this we went to watch a movie about a race horse that spanned the day he was born to 18 months. How he was trained, what race day is like and all the work and workers it takes for a racehorse. Its quite the payroll!

From there we went back out to the Paddock to watch the horses.



We thoroughly enjoyed our day here at Churchill Downs.

Those famous twin spires.


When we went back to the truck we asked the guy who owned the place where we parked how much parking would cost on Saturday, Derby Day. He told us $100.00!

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