Friday, June 12, 2009

Churchill Downs

Tuesday was a perfect day at Churchill Downs. Well, not really perfect because the horses were not running and not perfect because we got thoroughly soaked by the rain but we still had a great time. We toured the Kentucky Derby Museum, watched a 360 degree movie and took 2 guided tours. We were pleasantly surprised when purchasing our tickets the lady asked if we belonged to AAA and I said no but, on a hunch, told her that Monte belonged to the Twin Spires Club. The Twin Spires Club is Churchill Downs' on-line wagering system. If we had belonged to AAA we would have saved 10%. Monte's Twin Spire membership saved us 50%! So we were off to a good start. (Monte figures they owe him a free tour since they take his money so freely).

Spent some time wandering around the the museum which is very well done. Lots of interactive activities. Did not have a lot of time as our first tour was leaving.

Our first tour started at 8:30 and lasted an hour. It was the Barn and Backside Tour. Our tour guide loaded us in a van and drove us under the track and through the infield and under the track again and on to the backside. The backside of any horse racing track is where the barns are that house the race horses. There are more than 1,400 horse stalls on the backside at Churchill Downs and the horses that reside there need to be exercised each day. The track is a very busy place starting about 5 am – there are only so many exercise riders to go around so everyone must take their turn. We watched horses being shod, being bathed, and galloping and breezing on the track. Basically just watched the everyday activities that make it possible for us to enjoy thoroughbred horse racing. We were driven by the barns of such notable trainers as D. Wayne Lucas whose horses have won the Kentucky Derby 4 times, Preakness 5 times and the Belmont Stakes 4 times and Steve Asmussen the trainer of Curlin who was the 2 time horse of the year. We could see the barn from afar where 2009 Kentucky Derby Winner “Mine That Bird” resides (with his body guard) but we were not allowed to go get an autograph. On the way back to the museum we drove through some other areas of the infield and were shown one of 3 jails. Yes, jails. These resemble underground bunkers where those who have over-indulged in mint juleps and made a public nuisance of themselves get to spend some time (bet they smell good by the end of the day).
At 10:00 the Behind the Scenes tour began. This tour would not have been available on a race day so it was a pretty good trade off for not seeing live racing. On this tour we got soaked but that's not the point. We were taken through parts of Churchill Downs that most of the general public never get to see. Places such as Millionaires Row (large overpriced cafeteria looking room), the Media Center, the Jockey's Room, and lots of other places.

It was a 1.5 hour walking tour and well worth it – other than getting soaked. We were walking from the old section of the grandstands to the new section by way of the paddock. It was pouring rain. We got to the gate we needed to walk through to stay out of the rain and – it was locked. So we had to run across the paddock, through another gate, and then on into the building – all in the rain. Even the horses don't run when they are in the paddock. I'm sure I looked like an old wet fat nag running around.

One of the highlights of the tour was the glass replica of Churchill Downs. I thought it was going to be lame but it was actually pretty amazing. The racetrack replica is 30 feet long by 10 feet wide and stands 10 feet tall. The track itself is made of bronze mirror and has 20 glass horses being ridden by jockeys positioned on it. The stands are made of glass and mirrors and have more than 5,000 handmade glass spectators standing and sitting in them and the details just go on and on. Took some guy named Colquhoun 4 years to make it.
Interesting Churchill Downs factoid: On any given day, during a race meet, the track employs 1,500-2000 people. Kentucky Derby weekend it employs about 10,000 people.
So that was our day at the track. Hopefully on our next visit (whenever that might be) there will be live racing to see. If you ever get to Louisville I would highly recommend these tours.

1 comment:

~Cheryl said...

Beautiful buildings! Loved the pics of y'all on your horsies. :)