Imagine being amidst the grandeur of Derby day, sipping a mint julep, women donned in elegant hats, the excitement building among the crowd of over 160,000 people, as the moment for the Run for the Roses approaches. The hoopla began two weeks prior with Thunder Over Louisville, the biggest fireworks display in the United States, kicking off the two-week long Kentucky Derby Festival. Fourteen days of parties, athletic events, wine tastings and more have culminated in the 11th race of the day at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May. “My Old Kentucky Home,” the official Kentucky state song is performed by the University of Louisville Marching Band as 20 three-year-old thoroughbreds assemble at the starting gate. Everyone’s attention turns toward the track…and they’re off.
The Kentucky Derby Museum, on the grounds of Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, relives the excitement of the Derby every day. Begin in the oval theater watching a 360 degree film, “The Greatest Race,” which gives you an inside look at what goes into preparing for the Kentucky Derby. Browse the museum displays and participate in interactive exhibits like racing on horse simulators.
On your tour of Churchill Downs, included in the museum ticket fee, your guide will fill you in on historical and anecdotal Churchill Downs and Kentucky Derby facts. See the resident thoroughbred Risen Warrior and miniature horse Winston, statues and sculptures, the paddocks and rose garden. Stand inside the winner’s circle where the winning horse in every race at Churchill Downs has its picture taken, with the exception of the Kentucky Derby winner, whose winner’s circle is in a special, more elaborate location on the opposite side of the track. Gaze up at the empty grandstand, the iconic twin spires reaching toward the sky, and once again imagine it full of spectacularly dressed spectators out for the most exciting two minutes that occur at Churchill Downs every year.
The Derby Café
Plan to have lunch in the Derby Café before or after your tour. Sip a mint julep made with Kentucky bourbon and take home a souvenir collectable glass. Try one of several traditional Kentucky dishes, like Kentucky Burgoo, a thick stew of chicken, beef, pork, vegetables and spices, or Louisville Hot Brown, developed at the historic Brown Hotel in Louisville, an open-face turkey sandwich smothered in a blend of Bechemel and Mornay sauces, then topped with fresh, sliced tomatoes and bacon. Finish off your meal with Kentucky Bread Pudding, or try Derby Pie, developed at the Melrose Inn, rich with chocolate chips, walnuts, butter and sugar in a pastry shell. The Derby Café is open daily from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Louisville is less than a five hour drive from Chicago or a one-hour flight. The Kentucky Derby Museum and Churchill Downs are located just a few minutes from the Louisville International Airport.
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