My bucket ran over last year when by husband presented me with Derby tickets for the 143rd Running of the Roses at Churchill Downs. The race has been nicknamed the “Run for the Roses” because the winner is given a garland of more than 400 red roses sewn together, a tradition that dates back to 1932. There is a reason they call it “The Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports,” as frivolous as it sounds those two minutes didn’t disappoint. Growing up I loved everything to do with horses. I rode and competed in English Style in upstate New York for many years.
The Kentucky Derby held May 5th is the first leg of the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing, and is followed by the Preakness Stakes on May 19 and the Belmont Stakes on June 9. The 1 1/4-mile race runs on a dirt racetrack at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. Last year the dirt turned into mud after a morning deluge but that didn’t stop our fun.
Twenty horses enter the Derby, which is one of the largest fields in horse racing. To qualify for the Derby, horses and their jockeys travel on the road to the Kentucky Derby, a series of 35 races featuring a point system. The top four finishers of those races earn points and the top 20 horses from the 35 races earn a spot in the starting post in the Kentucky Derby race.
Churchill Downs is packed with over 150,000 fans all dressed to the nines with hats and sipping mint juleps hoping for their pick to be the one lucky windfall of the race. In fact, Always Dreaming, last year’s winner, did provide a little pay day for us helping me to recoup the cost of my dress and hat. The whole weekend was a lovely experience full of southern charm and hospitality. You should plan on spending a good amount of money to check this bucket list item off.
Places to Stay
During the Derby you have hotels that are high-end and make their year during Derby weekend and a selection of very nice Bed & Breakfast establishments. The B & B options were less pricey but not by much.
We stayed at a charming bed & breakfast close to Churchill Downs called The Samuel Culbertson Mansion. This was a good plan because the day of the race it rained and we were able to take a quick rickshaw ride right into the stadium. Many visitors were traipsing through the mud, dresses and white slacks ruined and splattered as they fought their way into the Downs.
Places to Go & Things to See
Louisville can be summed up in three words, bourbon, horses & history. Before the Derby went off, we had a drink at the historic Brown Hotel and toured a couple of the distilleries in downtown Louisville. The Galt House is another well-known stop for a drink or a bite. The Louisville Slugger Museum was a fun and interactive stop. You get to make a bat and take a few swings in a cage. When planning your trip reserve your dinner reservations ahead of time. Most of the restaurants are booked out months in advance. We ate at Bucks and 610 Magnolia.
I don’t like to be negative but there was one area of dissatisfaction during our visit. Churchill Downs has very poor signage and flow. When we and the other 150,000 people were departing it was a sea of crushing bodies pushing and trampling one another to get out. For a world-class sporting venue like the Derby, I was shocked and disappointed by the experience. People were pinned against the tunnel walls and it was very uncomfortable. There were handicapped people who couldn’t get through and no one was around from the stadium to direct the flow or help. This needs to be improved or someone will get hurt.
Who will it be this year? The odds makers are abuzz with speculations. Betting is complicated. You have to take into consideration so many details including the horses’ pedigree, breeder, trainer, jockey, race position and past wins. Last year it rained a good amount and some horse are considered good “mudders” while others are not so great. The process of dissecting and selecting can be overwhelming and exhilarating. We were in section 113, Row 3 by the finish line and just under cover enough so we didn’t get wet when the relentless rain kept coming all day. The pomp and circumstance was rich, the Juleps were flowing and they were off. You’re out of your seat cheering as the blaze of horse’s race by. As the field narrows you can barely control your excitement as you see your horse, Always Dreaming, clomping his way to first place. You never know when another Secretariat or American Pharaoh is just around the corner.
Dreams do come true! This year, we’ll be watching from our living room but our memories will keep us smiling for years to come. Here is to the field for 2018 and it’s off to the races on May 5th at 6:34 post time!