I didn’t know much about thoroughbred racing before I went to Louisville, Kentucky. One day in Derby City and I do now.
Churchill Downs historic walking tours run year round, expect on Kentucky Derby weekend when about 160,000 people flood this famous racetrack with a seating capacity of 60,000.
Where do the other 100,000 people without seats go?
To the middle: They cram into the general admission standing room only area in the centre of the track. Tickets are $80 per person.
That’s right: you and 99,999 of your new closest friends can spend the first Saturday of May at the Kentucky Derby without a view of the track.
“One day of the year,” the tour guide on our Derby Museum Historic Walking Tour jokes, “Churchill Downs center field becomes the third largest city by population in Kentucky.”
This is but one of the charming fun facts you’ll learn touring Churchill Downs Front of House area on any of the half-hour walking tours included with the price of Derby Museum admission ($15) running half past the hour during regular operating hours (except Derby weekend).
You’ll walk through the central 1850 original building, get a good photo of the icon dual roof spires, view the track and the “millionaires row” boxed seating from the stands and even meet Winston the miniature horse and his ‘living museum’ artifact buddy – a retired thoroughbred – which one changes each year.
The Kentucky Derby runs for two minutes one Saturday once a year.
Churchill Downs runs races all week June to November every year.
The Kentucky Derby Museum at Churchill Downs, however, is open all year – and it’s worth heading to track to see it.
Inside the museum, you’ll learn everything you need to know about the Kentucky Derby, expect who to bet on each year. Betting, of course, is what Churchill Downs is ultimately about. The Historic Walking Tour guide points out all the wager windows throughout the building, including those in the 1850 part of the building. Race day, you’ll need cash.
Yet, inside the Derby Museum there’s not a wager window to be seen. It’s all about the nobility of the race; the commitment to excellence; and the passion of those who live and breathe this industry.
Oh, and there’s historical stuff too.
Central to the Derby Museum (other than the gift store and café) is the 360 degree 18-minute film that surrounds standing viewers with a racetrack-like view of what it takes to breed, train and inspire a Derby winner.
Outside of the theatre is a plethora of traditional and interactive exhibits honouring the tradition of the Derby – celebrity outfits and of course hats, trophies won by famous thoroughbreds like American Pharoah, a tribute room to Man O War (buried in the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington) and even information about thoroughbred retirement and rescues, a significantly topical issue today.
About 30,000 thoroughbreds are born each year, according to the Barns and Backside tour guide and only 20 make it to the Kentucky Derby. Yes, others win other races but the career of even a good racer is short. What happens to all the others is a growing concern and organizations committed to re-homing these animals are at least mentioned at the museum.
Speaking of rescues, stay subscribed to horsetrotting.net to read about our visit to Old Friends racehorse sanctuary in Georgetown, Kentucky.
We plan to profile more horse rescues in the future … so if you know of any, tell us in the comments below.
Then checkout: Barns and Backside Tour – Derby Week!
What to see in Louisville, Kentucky?
TRAVEL GUIDE: Louisville, Kentucky is a charming downtown with sprawling boundaries encompassing a larger range that most visitors first see. However, downtown – including Museum Row – is a walkable area enhanced by a concerted effort to retain the facades of turn-of-the-century buildings as new ones go up behind them.
The Louisville Slugger Museum, production house of the famous baseball bat, is on Main Street between 8th and 9th street.
Anchoring Museum Row on 6th Street is the four-level Muhammad Ali Center, which is an extensive tribute to the famous boxer and humanitarian historically contextualized. Highlights include the boxing ring featured in films, his replica Olympic Gold Metal and a robe given to him by Elvis Presley.
Many boutique hotels are capitalizing on Louisville’s revitalized downtown and waterfront, including the pet-friendly Aloft Hotel (affiliate link) with valet parking and hip lobby bar.
Outside of downtown, Churchill Downs Race Track is a draw all year hosting racing April to November including the famous Kentucky Derby the first weekend of May. The two-level Derby Museum is here, and offers an array of tours including a half-hour, on the half hour, Historic Tour daily walking tour during museum hours and included with admission ($15).
Louisville is easy to visit, if you have a plan. Make one using travel guides from Amazon (affiliate link):
Checkout the Insider’s Guide to Louisville or if you’ve got a lot of time here’s 100 Things to Do in Louisville Before you Die.
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