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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.