On Friday morning we disembarked from the houseboat, but our vacation wasn’t over quite yet. We decided that rather than drive the nine hours straight home, we would slowly meander our way back, over the next three days, stopping to see some sites along the way.
Our first stop was Louisville, Kentucky, home of the Kentucky Derby.
After reading amazing reviews online we decided to check out the Kentucky Derby Museum.
Located at Churchill Downs, the museum showcases all aspects of the race, has multiple tours of the grounds, and a great short documentary on the race.
We aren’t horse racing fans…in fact I knew nothing about the Kentucky Derby prior to our visit other than the fashionable traditions of the fancy hats worn on race day, but we left with a great appreciation for this long standing tradition.
The museum and accompanying tours can be a full-day event for those that have the time. Basic admission allows you to explore the museum, participate in a 30 minute history walk (these happen every half hour past the hour), and view their 18 minute video “The Greatest Race.”
The museum experience starts at the gates. There are two floors of interactive exhibits, videos, photos, race artifacts and information. It is tailored for all ages and degrees of derby fans.
We loved how interactive and engaging the exhibits were.
It was an amazing museum!
We learned about the life and training of a racehorse from birth until it is races in the Derby at age 3. This was one of my favorite exhibits in the museum.
We were able to learn the art of horse betting with a pretend ticket window where we could place bets on the race,
And then sit and watch a recording of a previous race.
At the end of the video we could scan our ticket and see what our $2.00 bet would have paid out. Through this experience we learned we should never gamble on horse races!
The kids’ competitive natures came out when they had their go at being a jockey.
They were able to mount up and race against other riders on the video screen before them.
They got to dress up like jockeys and learn more about the colors certain jockeys wear,
As well as see how they measure up to one of the most winning jockeys of all time.
Grace was thrilled to finally be taller than someone other than the toddlers she watches at the daycare.
We learned a lot about the requirements that the jockeys have to follow on race day. The big one is their weight. The Kentucky Derby requires an exact weight of 126 lbs, including gear and saddle. Jockeys who fall short of the weight requirement must add weight to their saddle, no exceptions.
There was an incredible amount of information about horses whom have raced. We were able to watch videos of past Kentucky Derby races and learn more about some of the greatest horses that ever raced,
Including Balboa whose final resting place sits in front of the museum.
After walking through the exhibits of hats and all the memorabilia it was time to watch “The Greatest Race.”
This video is displayed on a 360° screen in a theater big enough for 50+ people.
As you watch, it will have you twirling in your seat to keep up and your heart pounding. The video covers race day preparations, interviews with jockeys, trainers, and owners, along with highlights from races dating back to the 1800’s. The result is an appreciation for what goes into this huge event, an event that has more live spectators than the Superbowl!
After the video we exited the museum for the included 30 minute history walk.
Posted on the buildings around us was a chronological list of prior Derby winners, starting with Aristides in 1875.
As we walked along, we saw every horse that has won the Kentucky Derby, the first triple crown winner, and the first father/son triple crown winners. Our tour guide was helpful in answering questions, and dishing out information about specific winners and races. Some people asked about famous horses like Secretariat and Barbaro.
One of my favorite parts about the tour was the Paddock. The paddock holds the up to 18 contestants on race day, and is a popular viewing place for spectators. When the horses walk in, their lip tattoos are checked and then they are taken to the individual stalls. . The Paddock is the last place the horses will be before taking the walk to the track.
Then to the track!
The distance between the Paddock and the race track is connected by a small tunnel underneath the stands. The horses are escorted through the tunnel, and upon entering the track, the tradition of everyone singing My Old Kentucky Home begins.
The horses are then led to the starting gate.
It was amazing to stand at the edge of the track and soak up the history of the location. It made me want to add a trip to the Kentucky Derby to my bucket list. I can only imagine how charged the energy must be on race day.
We were at the Kentucky Derby Museum on Friday for 2 1/2 hours and never made it to the second floor. The museum closed at 5:00 pm and everyone was so disappointed that we weren’t able to see it all that we decided to spend the night in Louisville and return back in the morning (our tickets allowed free access for 48 hours) to see the rest of the exhibits before continuing our trek north.
We were blown away by the place and we aren’t even racing fans.
Our discussion of the experience continued for days and we left the museum wanting to learn more.
Here are some of the fun facts we learned about the Kentucky Derby:
1. Nineteen past winners have had names beginning with the letter “S,” including Secretariat, the fastest horse in Kentucky Derby history, who completed the 1973 race in just under two minutes.
2. The amount of food consumed at the Derby is pretty astounding. On average, spectators will eat 142,000 hot dogs, 18,000 barbecue sandwiches, 13,800 pounds of beef, 32,400 jumbo shrimp, 9,000 scallops, 8,000 pounds of potatoes, 30,000 cookies and 300,000 strawberries.
3. Only three horses raced in the 1892 Kentucky Derby.
4. The traditional drink of the Derby is the mint julep, and over 120,000 are said to be consumed at the race each year.
5. Diane Crump was the first woman jockey to ever ride in the Derby; there has yet to be a female winner, but Shelley Riley came the closest in 1992 when she came in second. We were told that the reason so few women race in the derby is due to the massive size of thoroughbred horses and the arm strength needed to control them.
6. The Kentucky Derby trophy only weighs 3½ lbs.
7. The youngest jockey to win the esteemed race, Alonzo “Lonnie” Clayton, was just 15 come derby day in 1892. Bill Shoemaker continues to hold the title as the oldest winner; he was 54 when he took home the 1986 title.
8. Bill Shoemaker has also ridden the most Kentucky Derby horses (26) in history.
9. The record low temperature at the race (held on the first week of May every year) was 47 degrees in 1935 and 1957. The record high was 94 degrees in 1959.
10. Churchill Downs founder and president Col. M. Lewis Clark might have made the rose the official flower of the race after attending an 1883 post-derby party where socialite E. Berry Wall was handing the flower out to the ladies in attendance.
11. The Derby is also referred to as ‘The Run for the Roses’ because the winner is awarded a blanket sewn with over 400 roses post-race. This blanket weighs about 40 lbs.
12. Owner Calumet Farm holds the record for most Kentucky Derby wins, with 8. “Plain Ben” Jones holds the record for trainer with the most wins (6).
13. Post No. 1 has become known as “the dreaded rail.”
14. 1919 champion Sir Barton was the first Triple Crown winner, however he hadn’t won a race before arriving at the Derby.
15. Over $150 million in wagers have been placed over the last several Kentucky Derby races.
16. Horses must be three years in order to compete.
17. The Derby has never been cancelled or postponed due to inclement weather.
18. The historic 1¼-mile race was originally 1½ miles before the current distance was established in 1896.
19. The Kentucky Derby was started by Lewis Clark Jr.—grandson of William Clark, half of the famous explorer duo Lewis and Clark—after he saw England’s Epsom Derby.
20. Only three fillies (female horses) have won the Derby: Regret in 1915, Genuine Risk in 1980, and Winning Colors in 1988.
21. The 2018 event set the record for the wettest Kentucky Derby in history, with over 2.31 inches of rainfall.
22. The race was first televised in 1952.
23. The purse for the 2019 Derby will be $3 million, with the winner taking home $1.86 million, $600,000 for second place, $300,000 for third place, $150,000 for fourth place, and $90,000 for fifth. This marks a significant increase in the prize money: from 2005 to 2018, the purse was only $2 million.
This stop moves to the top of our list of must-see places for travelers…
Right up there with the City Museum of St. Louis and Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia.
We are so glad we stopped in Louisville!