Kentucky may be famous for basketball and horses, including the greatest horse race, but it’s also famous for something else… Bourbon. Bourbon is a specific form of Whisky distilled in Kentucky. It is aged in oak barrels which gives the drink it distinct flavor.
Many of the distilleries skill follow processes inherited from long ago and many of these distilleries are a short drive from Louisville through thru the heart of Central Kentucky. In 1999, the Kentucky Distiller’s Association created a tour known as the Kentucky Bourbon Trail where you can tour these historic facilities, learn about the process of making bourbon, see how it’s bottled and learn a bit about the history as well. You might even get to sample some bourbon or learn how too make the Kentucky Derby signature drink, the Mint Julip!
Bourbon is a big theme for the Kentucky Derby Festival and is a huge part of Kentucky’s history. Visit the Kentucky Bourbon Trail’s website at http://kybourbontrail.com to learn more about getting your passport and going on this adventure.
Our vacation is nearing its end. It’s Derby day. We won’t be among the 164,000 people to pack in to Churchill Downs dressed to the nines with flowing hats and drinking $11 mint juleps.
Instead it’s a day to head to Sherry’s brother, Doug’s house for his annual Kentucky Derby party, a tradition he took over from his parents. The party is all family. With around 35 people attending, the day included an inflatable bounce house for the kids, kabobs for lunch and BBQ for dinner.
In between there were jackpots for each race. For $1 you draw one horse. With the large group of attendees there were usually two running for each race. It was a good time to catch up on life.
In between races we worked in family photos. The goal was to leave CDs of images there instead of having to mail them later.
The Derby comes, $5 on four different horses, and 2:03.66 later, California Chrome assured I would not leave Louisville with any cash in my wallet. Yea we lost all the jackpots too…
Time to say goodbyes and start packing for the long drive back to Raleigh on Sunday. There will be a quick stop in central Kentucky for breakfast with my family and a lot of staring at I-75 and I-40 and it will be over.
When looking to fill our out schedule, taking a tour of the Maker’s Mark distillery sounded like something to do. We discovered that on Friday, they were actually holding a festival at their campus in Loretta, Kentucky. Friday was scheduled for good weather and was our open day, so we packed up the car and drove 35 miles south of Louisville past Bardstown.
Apple Maps ended up taking us through some back roads to get there, and by the term “back roads”, I mean one lane roads. No stripes. The drive was beautiful and relaxing other than the pressing question: “They haul semi’s of this stuff on these roads?” Are we going the right way. Sure enough, we came upon “Maker’s Mark Road”, a seemingly even smaller road.
Then we saw the black with red trim buildings and a traffic director sending us driving into an open field. I had been joking with Sherry about taking the Prius 4-Wheeling. Well it was off-road time.
The festival was small by any definition, but with live music, some food trucks with the most amazing BBQ and Hamburger we ever had, free bourbon and mint julep samples, it ended up being a rather fun, educational and entertaining day.
I was surprised to see glass art by famed artist Dale Chihuly adorning the ceiling in one of the warehouses where the classrooms and gift shop were located. They held mint julep making classes in the classrooms. You could see the bottles being filled and hand dipped in the wax and you could even hand dip your own bottle.
Afterwards it was a drive back to Louisville for a cookout with family.
The Kentucky Derby has always been the grand event that brought in people from outside of Kentuckiana. It’s the event that most people know about. The Friday before the Derby, is a race for three-year old fillies (female horses) that’s just about as big as the Derby — the Kentucky Oaks, but being on Friday, it was always been considered the “Local’s Derby day”, a time for the locals to have the same pomp and circumstance as for the visitors on Saturday. Just as the Derby has run 139 times in the past, so has the Oaks.
But over the past few years, the visitors have spilled over to have two days of racing and the Oaks, while not getting the national coverage, draws crowds nearly as large as the Derby itself. Now, Churchill Downs is trying to brand Thursday as the day for the locals with Thurby.
We had a light day scheduled and considered adding another day at the track, we decided to keep things for family time. First up was a niece’s pre-school adaptation of the Pegasus Parade. With their home-made floats, costumes, etc. that mirrored popular derby themes.
Next we took care of some shopping and then it was off to a nephew’s middle school soccer game which despite the very cool weather, they won 3-2. But we had to fit in at least one Derby related event.
Each year, the blanket of roses that is draped on the Derby winner is hand-made at a Kroger florist and people can stop in and see this blanket made. This is done on the Friday night before the Derby. However on Thursday night, a garland of lilies is made for the fillies for their Kentucky Oaks run. Our last trip, to the Derby, we took in the blanket of roses being made. This year we went out on Thursday night to see it being made.
One of the banner events of the Kentucky Derby Festival is racing old river paddle boats up and down the Ohio River. The cornerstone of this race is the 100-year-old “Belle of Louisville” who turns 100 later this year. She is an authentic steam-powered paddle wheel that drove transportation in the 1800’s and 1900’s up and down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. The Great Steamboat Race has been held since 1963
For years this battled the Belle against the “Delta Queen”, based out of Cincinnati. That boat is now permanently docked in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Now the opponent is a more modern diesel-powered paddle wheeler named the “Belle of Cincinnati”. The race is for bragging rights and a pair of silver-plated antlers.
The rules of the race have changed over the years and cheating is encouraged in the race. Because the Belle of Cincinnati is considerably faster the current version of the race includes a crew competition called the “Big Bounce”, a Calliope contest, and of course the race. During the race both boats have to stop and pick up a special guest, for the Belle of Louisville, it’s the University of Louisville Cardinal mascot, the Belle of Cincinnati picks up the University of Cincinnati Bearcat mascot.
Next they have to snag a flag attached to a buoy. This is their turn around point. The Belle of Louisville turns about two miles early to make the race fair.
We scored tickets to ride on the Belle of Louisville back In January. My wife has always wanted to ride the Belle on Race day, and this year we got the chance. With my mother-in-law in tow, we headed to the river front around 3:30 for a 4:30 boarding. The sun was shining and it was a bit breezy. We were pretty close to the front of the line and we got seats at the starboard bow that would have the best view of the picking up of the Louisville Cardinal.
At 6:00pm, the steam horn blasted and black smoke bellowed from the chimneys of the Belle. She steadily pushed out into the Ohio while the Belle of Cincinnati sat at the 2nd Street bridge waiting on the start. The Belle of Louisville got a running start, but before long the Belle of Cincinnati had a commanding lead up-stream.
It was a wonderful cruise, wind blowing through our hair and the bourbon flowing freely. Everyone got a chance to partake in a buffet as well. Miss Kentucky made her way around meeting the guests.
The Belle of Louisville made it to its pickup point at Cox Park to pick up the Cardinal (mind you I’m wearing my University of Kentucky shirt!…. On purpose….). At this point the Belle of Cincinnati was almost out of site up the river. After heading back into the river, the Belle of Louisville made it to a buoy with a UofL flag on it. The Belle of Cincinnati could be seen pulled over picking up its special guest. In theory the Belle of Louisville at this point had a commanding lead as we headed back to Louisville.
As soon as she turned west, the temperature felt as if it plummeted 30 degrees and the wind picked up in intensity. Most people, not dressed for the cold headed below to watch from the heated area of the boat. (Mind you the temperature really didn’t drop 30 degrees, but the fact that we were pretty shielded from the wind and now heading into it made it quite cold.
The Belle of Cincinnati never seemed to catch up and the Belle of Louisville rolled under the Clark Memorial 2nd Street bridge well ahead of its competitor. It was a blowout.
After disembarking and seeing the news later that night, it seems the Belle of Cincinnati conceded the race in honor of the Belle of Louisville’s 100th birthday celebration. But we are going with a butt kickin’. That’s our story and we are sticking to it.
Today was another early morning to head back to Churchill Downs to watch the horses work out. Today instead of doing the breakfast on Millionaires Row and watch the workout from the boxes, we just went to the rail to get close to the horses and hear and feel the thundering hooves.
We found a lot that was open without parking fees (as many people did) and took advantage of the free admission. There were many more Derby and Oaks horses working out today.
This was mostly about shooting photos of the best of the best in three-year old’s.
One of the cool things that people can do that is actually related to the Kentucky Derby is watch the horses work out early in the mornings. Many locals will go out before they go to work to get a glimpse of the horses they will otherwise only see on TV Saturday. This event is known as Dawn at the Downs.
For the price of your good looks and $10 for parking, visitors can get right up to the rail and watch the practices, the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday before the race. Churchill Downs also hosts a breakfast buffet on Millionaires Row, or the 4th floor suites on Tuesday and Wednesday. For an additional fee, you can get access to limited seats to enjoy the breakfast, listen to a guest speaker let you know what’s happening on the track and of course watch some of the Derby and Kentucky Oaks horses work out.
Other horses work out before and after the Oaks and Derby contenders who have a 15 minute window.
Horses may just walk around the track, they may take a light jog around the track or they may have a full-out workout.
Now that you now what Dawn at the Downs is, this morning was one of our two planned trips to the morning workouts. Today, we purchased the buffet and at least for a couple of hours, we were treated like millionaires. Four women from Louisville were also sitting at our table along with my wife and mother-in-law.
After the breakfast was over, it was time to head outside and watch the Derby contenders work out. Some of the fillies working out to prepare for the Kentucky Oaks (the Oaks is a girls only race) included:
My Miss Sophia
And the horses running at the Kentucky Derby included:
Ride on Curlin
Tomorrow we return, skipping the breakfast to just go watch the horses work out (and take photos of course) before we head to the river for our race — The Great Steamboat Race.
Beds… You jump on them as kids. You sleep on them and well, um you…
Race them of coarse.
One of the more fun things that Kentuckians race is beds. There are two phases of the competition: the style and the speed.
During the style phase, the teams assemble costumes and decorate the beds based on a theme. This years theme was “Call of the wild” which of course had plenty of jungle themed beds but several teams went with a Wild West motif, which of course means horses. The most interesting interpretation was the “Wild Thing” entry, a baseball theme from the movie “Major League.”
During the style competition, the floats err, I mean beds are paraded around the figure 8 shaped course in Broadbent Arena, part of the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center. Forty beds were entered in this year’s race. The award for best decorated was given to General Electric’s lion themed bed and Rubbie’s Southside Grill & Bar took the most entertaining bed with their surfing pig “Hogs gone Wild” theme.
After the parade, the decorations are removed, helmets are donned and the racing commences. The rules are simple: 4 wheels, 4 pushers, a driver and a regular sized mattress. The beds are built by hand with various types of wheels and steering (or not). The race happens in heats of 2 and the fastest time wins.
Spectators are treated to speed, crashes, orange pylons being run over and dragged around the track and even a wheel falling off. Some of the teams take the racing quite seriously, some of course are there for fun.
The winner of the race was the Alpha Energy Solutions team knocking out the long time champion Curtain Call Photo Booth. The “Cone Eater” award went to Brinly-Hardy Co.
The original good weather plan was to travel about 60 miles down I64 to Lexington and tour Keeneland race track and several horse farms and pick up some Pizza Pie at Joe B’s in Lexington. Well that got washed.
Instead we took my mother-in-law computer shopping. Time for her old Dell desktop with Windows XP to be retired and move her into the 21st century. Let’s just say after spending 2 hours in Best Buy she’s now the hippest Granny in the world (at least to her g-kids!).
After a quick-lunch it was off to the Louisville Slugger bat factory for a tour. This old building in downtown Louisville makes most of the wood bats used for professional baseball from the MLB to the minors. All the bats were actually hand-made there until the late 1980s. If you’re even the least bit of a baseball fan, it probably should be on your baseball bucket list. Sorry no tour photos allowed!
Even with “buckets” of rain falling from the sky, we took a brief trip up the “Baseball Walk of Fame”. The Walk of Fame starts at the Louisville Slugger museum and continues down main street for about a mile to Louisville Slugger field, home of the Louisville Bat’s AAA minor league team, overlooking the bank’s of the Ohio River.
Along this walk are bronzed bat’s and home plate statuettes to many MLB Hall of Fame players who used Louisville Sluggers in their career. We only got about two block’s worth visited.
We got home for about an hour, enough time to reset and head out for the next adventure… the 2014 Great Bed Race.
One of the best things about college is the friendships you can make. While this represents our 30 year college reunion year, our “family” stays in touch even though we are spread out to the four winds.
One of our friends, Lindi, lives on a small 5 acre farm just northwest of Indianapolis, another town famous for racing… On her farm not only resides her budding equestrian champion daughter, but 5 horses and 2 miniature ponies.
With the farm being a mere 2:15 travel time away and a 50mpg Prius and an otherwise open day in the planned calendar, a pretty smile and horses, what else could we do other than yell “Roadtrip!”
After a wonderful lunch with Lindi, catching up on old times, recent times, and the exploits of our kids, it was back to the farm for our photo shoot. First up was Rio, a 4-year-old who’s just learning how to show. Let me just say…. I’ve never had a model tougher to pose than a horse. A few peppermints later and set one was done. Next up was Rachael with Napoleon her older championship horse.
Napoleon worked the gig a bit better. After a few solo shots with Rachael and a few solo shots of the horses, it was time to pack up and head back to Louisville.
With the packed schedule, we had a limited window to meet up with another college bud, Mike. He and his daughter Eva, met us in Southern Indiana, just across the river from the “Fest-a-ville”, the place where many Derby Festival events, like concerts, games and of course the Chow Wagon are held.
We planned to head a little further down the river to get a better view of the Louisville skyline. During the last trip I got a decent shot, but without a tripod or cable release, there was a touch of camera movement. However, mother-nature started raining on our parade… really, it rained. Several buildings were not lit up with it being the weekend, so we bailed on the photo taking for another day.