a visit to Churchill Downs

Though I had once before laid eyes on the iconic twin spires of Churchill Downs, I had never been to the races there until this weekend.  This weekend was my sixth time in Louisville, Kentucky, and Saturday I finally went to tour the Kentucky Derby museum and attend the races at Churchill Downs.

My day started with a visit to Barbaro.  His final resting place is here, with a captivating statue of him in full flight.

Barbaro, forever in flight.

The museum is right next to the track, so I showed up a couple of hours before post time.  That way, I had the chance to take a stroll through horse racing history at the museum, and then watch all the races.  The museum does a walking tour, which shows you around the grounds, and points out some of the history of Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby.

Behind the museum, the silks of the latest Kentucky Derby winner festoon the jockey statue.  This year: California Chrome.
Behind the museum, the silks of the latest Kentucky Derby winner festoon the jockey statue. This year: California Chrome.
The paddock is one of my favourite parts of any racetrack, and Churchill's is lush and green.
The paddock is one of my favourite parts of any racetrack, and Churchill’s is lush and green.
A sun-bathed moment with Aristides: first winner of the Kentucky Derby, and perpetual guardian of the Churchill paddock.
A sun-bathed moment with Aristides: first winner of the Kentucky Derby, and perpetual guardian of the Churchill paddock.
Pat Day, all-time leading rider at Churchill Downs, may not have grown to five feet tall in real life...but he is five feet tall in this paddock statue.
Pat Day, all-time leading rider at Churchill Downs, may not have grown to five feet tall in real life…but he is five feet tall in this paddock statue.
I'm not there with a horse, at least not yet, but at least I have now seen the view from the Churchill winners' circle.
I’m not there with a horse, at least not yet, but at least I have now seen the view from the Churchill winners’ circle.

After the walking tour of the grounds, we returned to the museum.  Out behind the museum, they actually have horses on site.  Miniature horse Winston is an institution: he is 21 years old, and has lived at the Kentucky Derby Museum for nineteen of those years.  They also have different Thoroughbreds who take up residence there at times.  Now Twinspired lives there, quite apt given his name.  Twinspired finished seventeenth in the 2011 Kentucky Derby, after hitting the board in both the Spiral and the Blue Grass that year.  He currently stands at stud in Ohio, but is living at the Derby museum now that it is no longer breeding season.  He is a gorgeous grey with a very cute pink spot on his nose.

Twinspired and Winston really love their hay.
Twinspired and Winston really love their hay.

In the garden near where the horses live, the Derby museum has the walk of champions.  Five Kentucky Derby winners are laid to rest there.  Visiting Swaps made a particular impression on me, given that California Chrome’s trainer Art Sherman had been Swaps’s exercise rider, and Swaps had been the only other California-bred to win the Kentucky Derby.

Dust Commander, Carry Back, Sunny's Halo, Brokers Tip, and Swaps.
Dust Commander, Carry Back, Sunny’s Halo, Brokers Tip, and Swaps.

Around the corner in the garden is Eight Belles’ final resting place, along with a statue.  I love the way her mane is forever blowing in the breeze.

The Eight Belles statue is very modern, and very shiny.
The Eight Belles statue is very modern, and very shiny.

After touring the track and the garden outside the museum, I walked through the exhibits of the Derby museum.  It was full of racing history, and seeing all the old jockey silks was particularly neat.  I could have sat and watched Derby replays all day…but constrained myself to watching just one, Mine That Bird’s win.

The Dumb Ass Partners did pick brilliant shades of purple and green for their blinkers.  Also, the nasal strip on the California Chrome statue is a nice touch.
The Dumb Ass Partners did pick brilliant shades of purple and green for their blinkers. Also, the nasal strip on the California Chrome statue is a nice touch.
Inside the first electric starting gate used at the Derby, this is the closest I will ever get to being a jockey.
Inside the first electric starting gate used at the Derby, this is the closest I will ever get to being a jockey.

At about forty-five minutes to post, it was time to leave the museum and head over to the track for a full day of racing.  The headline races on the card were the Homecoming Classic for the handicap set, as well as the Jefferson Cup (GIII) for the three-year-old turf runners.  My plan had originally been to just wander around general admission, which is what I always do when I go to the track.  Before the tour of the museum, though, I was talking racing with one of the people who worked at the Derby museum.  She asked me if I had my ticket yet, and when I told her I didn’t, she gave me a box seat ticket to Saturday’s races!  That was so nice of her…and the weather yesterday was so hot and sunny that having a shady place to sit down and watch races was splendid.  It also likely saved me from a sunburn.

Thank you, Kentucky Derby Museum, for my awesome seat!
Thank you, Kentucky Derby Museum, for my awesome seat!
The view from my seat, as they were setting up the gate for race 1.
The view from my seat, as they were setting up the gate for race 1.
I am not sure why Deputiformer is racing, since I thought he had been retired earlier this year.  Still, he is a gorgeous horse.
I am not sure why Deputiformer is racing, since I thought he had been retired earlier this year. Still, he is a gorgeous horse.
Forever Golden had the biggest, pointiest ears.  This three-year-old Touch Gold filly finished third in the second race.
Forever Golden had the biggest, pointiest ears. This three-year-old Touch Gold filly finished third in the second race.
Two-year-old Curlin baby Whirl (Shag, by Dixieland Band) made her second career start in Saturday's fifth race.
Two-year-old Curlin baby Whirl (Shag, by Dixieland Band) made her second career start in Saturday’s fifth race.
Whirl, walking around the paddock before her race.  She finished eighth, just as she did in her first start.
Whirl, walking around the paddock before her race. She finished eighth, just as she did in her first start.
I took pictures of two horses before Whirl's race just because of the blazes on their faces.  This one, the front-running Streetheart, was one of two dead-heat winners of the race.
I took pictures of two horses before Whirl’s race just because of the blazes on their faces. This one, the front-running Streetheart, was one of two dead-heat winners of the race.
Keen Pauline is the other horse in the 5th whose blaze stood out.  She closed furiously -- and was the other dead-heat winner of the race.  Score two for cute blazes!
Keen Pauline is the other horse in the 5th whose blaze stood out. She closed furiously — and was the other dead-heat winner of the race. Score two for cute blazes!
Departing looked fabulous in the paddock before the Homecoming Classic.
Departing looked fabulous in the paddock before the Homecoming Classic.
Cigar Street walking around the paddock before he scored in the Homecoming Classic.
Cigar Street walking around the paddock before he scored in the Homecoming Classic.
Heart to Heart stands out for two reasons: his turf prowess, and the big heart-shaped star on his forehead.
Heart to Heart stands out for two reasons: his turf prowess, and the big heart-shaped star on his forehead.
Heart to Heart in the winner's circle, after his first graded stakes win in the Jefferson Cup (GIII).
Heart to Heart in the winner’s circle, after his first graded stakes win in the Jefferson Cup (GIII).
He may be cute, and he may be fast, but Heart to Heart is not getting out of his post race bath.
He may be cute, and he may be fast, but Heart to Heart is not getting out of his post race bath.

Finally, after the races, Candice asked if I had seen the jockey mural.  I hadn’t, so we went up to the second floor.  There was also a trainer one just down the hallway, as well.

The jockey mural is very bright.
The jockey mural is very bright.
The best thing about the trainer mural is the look on Lucien Laurin's face.
The best thing about the trainer mural is the look on Lucien Laurin’s face.  Holding Secretariat, he looks like the cat who ate the canary.

All in all, it was an excellent day at the track.  I got to explore a new track, I got to take a walk through various corners of racing history, and I got to see a Curlin baby in person.  It was worth taking Saturday to visit Churchill, and I would suggest that any horse racing fan who visits Louisville takes some time to visit.

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