Wednesday, May 4, 2011

My Derby Picks

A few months ago Liz contacted me on behalf a young lady who (among some other amazing adventures) chose to go to all three Triple Crown races for her Bat mitzvah gift. Yes, she's one VERY lucky kid, indeed: so not knowing how long they're planning to be there I gave them the "Jet's Picks" when it comes to the Kentucky Derby and I'm sharing it with all of know, if you should find yourself here some day! (or if you should be so lucky as to be on the Triple Crown tour)

The first thing to consider is that Derby WEEK is amazing. To the best of my knowledge, there is not another horse racing centric event series like it. Of the three, ( Derby, Preakness, Belmont,) Derby is the only one that creates THAT much of an event. The week preceding Derby Day is FULL of fun. It is also full of changes to things that are not available in any other time of year because everything in the entire Louisville area is in Derby Mode.

While it's possible to fly in see the derby and escape immediately, I can't for the life of me figure out why anyone would...especially if they LOVE horses!!!

One of the Must-See's is the Kentucky Derby Museum & lunch at the Derby Cafe. I think we were able to do both on a Wednesday before Derby but it's closed for Oaks Day on Friday and Derby Day on Saturday. Thursday is typically a private luncheon so the cafe is closed but it's a good idea to check their calendar or contact them first to see what they have planned. (Hot Browns are a tradition & very yummy there!)

That's probably a good day to just go to the track and explore, watch a few races while the crowd is minimal. Oaks & Derby Day are a ZOO! You can typically get to your seats and some key other places but it's not a day to get the feel of Churchill Downs. I'd even suggest that Mom/Dad join the Twin Spires Club and start getting updates on events.

Then there's the Derby Festival. LOTS of events and a HUGE Waterfront party in Downtown Louisville on Friday night after the Oaks. There are usually large act music groups who play..for free! Lots of Derby excitement and family oriented as it's intended for the locals. You buy a Pegasus Pen at any Kroeger Food Store and it gets you into any of the Festival events. I think they're $4 and they are at every check out line.

Speaking of Kroeger: at the Middletown Kroger Food store on Shelbyville Rd (**eta** I just learned that they moved it this year to the Hubbards Lane Kroger...just in case you were headed out to see it) they make the Derby Rose Garland on Friday night before the derby. I know it sounds silly but it's a LOT of fun to go there and watch them sew the roses on. It's a huge deal! They have live music & the whole store has Derby Traditional food for sampling plus a life size model horse with a mock Rose Garland that you can take your photo with. The line to see the garland being made is a little long but they come by with free rose petals, pins and sometimes snacks! I take folks there and have never waited more than 45 minutes to see it. You've never had so much fun in a grocery store! I believe they also do it on Thursday for the Lilly Garland for the Oaks race on Friday.

I also love TACK shopping in Kentucky. There are several great ones around Louisville and Lexington as well as a race tack shop right near the track: Luckett's makes custom racing/exersize saddles and leather halters. I bought really nice used ones from a box for $15 each when I was there last year. But a new one is a really cool way to remember the Derby at home every day in use with your own horse (I have one other suggestion about that too...later). Bob Mickler's, The Hitching Post & Kentucky Horse Supply are also great. My husband let me have a whole day of tack shopping for my birthday last year in Louisville and I wished I'd packed an extra bag! It was so fun, I felt like a horse crazy 13 year old, myself!

Most of the Horses are out in Lexington. There are few in-person horse experiences in Louisville, especially during Derby but Lexington is about an hour away and my personal favorite place in Kentucky! The majority of the breeding farms are out there and you can go on organized tours through Thoroughbred Heritage Farm Tours: or you can contact local farms on your own to try to arrange tours.

I also highly recommend the The Thoroughbred Center in Paris, KY (minutes from Lexington). I'd take the early morning tour so you can see the workouts. They take out out to the practice track and through the barns. On our tour we met a trainer and got to hear how he prepares horses for racing & got to pick his brain a bit. It was awesome! They have something like 1,100 horses there and train year round. It turns out there are 5 tracks in Kentucky and this place is central to all of them. They run horses year round, a month at a time at each track, plus an extra month at Churchill & Keeneland (the MOST beautiful track I've seen!). Book your reservation well ahead of the trip on that one.

Another excellent Lexington adventure is the Kentucky Horse Park. It's like Disneyland for Horse people!! I have not been there since the World Equestrian Games but I have been there twice before the games and then spent all two weeks of the games there last Sept/Oct. The facilities they put in for the games are magnificent. You can ride trail horses (slow, but a run way to see the place) for a tour but you can also drive out through the Rolex 3 day Cross Country course (which runs the weekend before Derby, much of it is still set up). Inside the park there is a museum of the horse, several breed demonstrations and a Parade of Champions where you can meet the horse that won the Derby on my honeymoon, Funnycide...among others!

Also located on the grounds of the Kentucky Horse Park is the Makers' Mark Secretariat Center where they take off-the-track Thoroughbreds and retrain them for post-racing careers in pleasure, jumping & dressage, getting them ready to be adopted. It's a really great way to give a race horse a chance at a great life beyond the track. I understand they do allow visitors but not on Sundays and it's a good idea to contact them well ahead of your trip too.

If you are in Lexington on Sunday after the Derby, you can also attend the annual Homecoming Party at Old Friends, a racehorse retirement facility. We've gotten some of our BEST Derby mementos there at their fundraising silent auction. Two years ago I came home with a 5' original painting and last year my husband got an autographed Hall of Fame induction "jersey" for Bob Baffert! They have this party and usually have food & some really cool auction items. They typically have several halters worn by actual TB Champions. Two years ago they had Big Brown's halter, donated by his owners. There are sometimes art, photography and other stuff there, I've even seen the personal scrapbooks of certain horses auctioned there. It's a great evening for a great cause: to give a retirement home to Thoroughbreds.

I would suggest to spend Sunday/Monday in Lexington to get the full horse experience.

While in Lexington there is also Quillin's Tack Shop...where they make the special PINK Leather Halter for the Kentucky Oaks Fillies (and a certain special Arabian Mare in Washington!!!!) They are another race centered tack shop but it's amazing to see what they make there and it's not ALL about racing!

Another fun day in the "area" is Shelbyville (bout half way between Louisville & Lexington). It's the Saddlebred horse Capital of the world & the local visitors bureau will take you on a farm tour for free (if you decide to donate, it goes to a therapeutic riding center) and you get to see one of THE most lovely working farms I've ever been to! This is also the home of Claudia Sanders Dinner House (that would be Mrs. Sanders of the KFC fame) she opened a dinner house with her private recipes after they sold their Kentucky Fried Chicken business. The place is fun & the food is served family style. I would never actually go to KFC in Kentucky when I have THIS option!!!

I will also add that my husband has also attended the Belmont and just did not have the same experience has we've continued to enjoy in Kentucky going to the Derby. At first we thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime but we just couldn't stay away...and it's almost yearly now! I tell him we're practically residents!!!

OK....that's about all my brain can spew out at one time...but I LOVE Kentucky and hope that any of you who make the trip has a, likewise, amazing experience.


  1. LOL, I thought you were going to tell us who was going to win ;-)

  2. Wow, now I want to jump on a plant to Kentucky!

  3. Debi, sorry...I still, don't have my personal picks but they did just draw the post positions (live on Tv & on the radio here!) so the picks are changing. I *might* give my race pics, if I've made up my mind, before Derby Day!

    I did pop into Luckett's today and they are expecting some used halters in the next few days as *someone* just ordered 30 brand new ones & usually turn a bunch of old ones back. I called dibs on them and they're going to call me if/when they get in! These are amazing handmade leather halters for Thoroughbreds. I plan to bring back as many as I can. They were VERY nice there and I'm excited (hoping I find out who this large order may have come from...who knows who these used halters could have been on!?)