I was at home and the TV was on.
I wasn’t really listening but all of a sudden I heard something about the Kentucky Derby. For an instant I was confused because I knew the Derby was always held the first Saturday in May. And then I realized it had been postponed due to COVID-19. The Derby was actually held on Sept. 5 this year, which was the first Saturday in September.
It’s only the second time in the history of the race that it has not been held on the traditional date. The first time was in 1945 when it was delayed until June due to World War II. And this year the Derby, which normally attracts over 150,000 fans, did not allow spectators.
But why would I even be interested in the Kentucky Derby? Perhaps it’s because the Fun Club has visited Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, several times in the past. Most recently we visited this legendary racetrack in September 2017 and, as always, it was a great tour. I’ll try to recap some of the highlights.
Churchill Downs Tour
The Fun Club started the day with a behind-the-scenes tour on the backside of the racetrack where the jockeys and trainers tend to gather. After breakfast in the jockeys’ cafeteria, we watched the horses train. One of the jockeys stopped to visit with us and shared stories about life on the track. He allowed us to get close and even pet the horse. While in that backstretch area, we also saw some of the more than 1,400 stalls that are mostly full during peak season.
Next we enjoyed the walking tour. Our guide peppered his commentary with history, humor and interesting tidbits about what he referred to as “the greatest race.” We heard about the horses, the jockeys, the owners and the facilities. And during the walking tour we saw where it all happens. During this part, too, we were able to watch the thoroughbreds training on the track.
Kentucky Derby Museum
Our next stop was the Museum where the Fun Club watched the epic film “The Greatest Race.” The movie was projected larger-than-life in one of the world’s only 360-degree theatres. It put us in the center of the Kentucky Derby experience and our chairs swiveled 360 degrees to help us take it all in.
One of the favorite spots in the Museum may have been the simulated racing area where Fun Club travelers were able to choose their steed and race against their friends to the finish line. It was a challenge to maintain the proper jockey’s stance on their way to victory.
Kentucky Derby fashion
One of my favorite exhibits was a display of 20 hats from the annual Derby hat competition. You may know that big hats and fashionable ensembles are as much a part of the Kentucky Derby as the race itself. The Museum changes the display every year to reflect the elegance, the quirkiness and the flair of that year’s best-dressed Derby-goers. I admired the creativity, the uniqueness and the fun of each hat in the special display.
And I wasn’t the only one attracted to Derby fashions. The gift shop staff encouraged our travelers to try on their gorgeous hat creations and many in our group complied. If York area ladies would have a place to wear hats these days, I’m fairly certain there would have been a number of colorful wide-brimmed hats purchased that day. And each of them would have been decorated with big flowers or fluffy feathers and lots of ribbon.
Horse related activities
Our day at Churchill Downs ended all too soon but we had plenty of other horse-related activities on this 2017 Kentucky Bluegrass tour. After our experiences in Louisville learning about the Kentucky Derby, our group made its way to Lexington. There the Fun Club toured several horse farms and visited Keeneland which is often said to be one of the most beautiful racetracks in the world. Another stop at Lexington was the Kentucky Horse Park where we were guests at a show featuring horse breeds and past champions.
Is it any wonder that the mention of the Kentucky Derby caught my attention? The history and tradition wrapped up in that annual one-day event is simply incredible.
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