Dixie Road Trip – Kentucky Derby

The day started with rain…thunderstorms all night long and lots of rain.  Looked out the window this morning to see the parking lot semi-flooded.  Can’t help but to wonder what the infield of Churchill Downs is going to be like after all that rain.  No matter, it’s The Derby and we can’t wait!  We pack up our rain ponchos and gird up for infield mud.  Off we go!

We arrive a little before 11:00. We’re entranced immediately upon entry.  Roses everywhere, women in hats of every size, shape and color….Art abounds.  Men are also dressed in every way imaginable, with a prevelance of light suits and ties.

MNM (Mona and Moet)

We’re thirsty…where to start?  Mint julips or champagne….hmmm…the Moet is pretty compelling so champaign it is!  We stroll around sipping and enjoying the incredible scenery….which consists primarily of people.  If you’re a people watcher this is the place to be!  And if you’re a hat lover…then this would be heaven.  By day’s end there are over 150,000 people are here and easily 75% of them are wearing hats….especially the women.  In Decatur, Mona’s home made hat might seem a bit flamboyant, but here…it fits right in!
And for the record…I wore a hat too.  Here’s a picture to prove it.  And yes, I’m smiling in the pic…on the inside!  🙂  We must have taken 50 pictures of hats and whatnot…and could have taken 1000 without scatching the surface of what was there to see.

We spent a lot of time around the paddock…this is normally one of our favorite spots at the track and where we decide whether the horse is pretty enough to bet on.  (What can I say…we have a system and the horse’s physical appearance is very important!)

However, looking at all these pictures you will note one thing in common…..not a single pic of a horse!  That’s because even though we are in the paddock area there are simply so many people that we can’t see a horse.  This won’t do!

We decide to head for the infield…after all, that’s where our tickets are for.  This wasn’t as easy as it might sound as there is only one way to the infield and it’s not well marked.  Luckily, we are able to locate a stand selling Mint Julips so we are well libated during our search!

At last we find the way….it’s all the way behind the paddock…not an easy path since there are thousands of people in our way…but we struggle through.

Infield “Horses”

The infield is a different world!  Still lots of incredible outfits, but also lots of tees and shorts.  Still Artistic, but in a different way.  Also, the crowd here is a little more rowdy….strike that, a LOT more rowdy! There is lots of noise including DJs and people dancing.  But, there is no noise of horses racing nor of people cheering.  None. Horses are are racing around us, but you can’t hear it at all.  This is a huge party but the only things related to horses are on hats!

We wander and ogle, but decide that we’re more the paddock sort so off we go!  We get back and “discover” about 20,000 more people are there.  Lots and lots more hats and outfits….and people.  Who would have thought that more people could fit in, but they did!

Now we’re hungry…we stand in line for literally 40 minutes to get Carolina BBQ.  Got to talk to some people from Miami so the time wasn’t a total waste.  Got our food and found a corner of the patio to sit and eat.  There are about 53 benches for about 100,000 people so you can’t be choosy where you sit!

Back to the paddock….more people!

Back to the infield…..way more people!  It’s amazing, Churchill Downs is never sold out.  So long as you show up with money you are allowed in.  Today a new attendance record of about 168,000 was set.  I think we got to touch them all!

Okay…now here’s the big reveal!  We were at Churchill Downs for about 5 hours and we barely got a glimpse of a horse….much less smell a horse or hear the pounding of horses coming down the homestretch.  We did get to enjoy the spectacle, spectacular….and that was in itself totally cool.  But damn it, we wanted to see the Derby!  So we did it….we left.  Yep, took forever to wade through all those people to gate 10, but we did.  Walked back to our car and drove in minimal traffic back to Bardstown.  Changed into dry clothes and headed to Old Talbott Tavern….established in 1782.

5 local bourbons

At the tavern we joined up with many native Kentuckians who wanted to watch the Derby.  It didn’t take long to find out that we weren’t the only ones who had been to Churchill Downs, but wanted to see horses run.  We ordered the bourbon tasting and settled back to watch the Derby.  When the horses left the gate the whole place went silent.  About the third turn everyone started cheering for their horse!  And for the last couple of hundred yards everyone was cheering for I’ll Have Another and that great run down the homestretch.

We loved going to Churchill Downs on Derby Day…especially the first few hours.  However, this is a bucket list item we have no desire to repeat.  We will continue to go to tracks on “normal days” and immerse ourselves in the track culture.  We will also watch the Kentucky Derby…..but always somewhere where we can actually see the horses run!

Next up, Asheville, North Carolina!

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One Response to Dixie Road Trip – Kentucky Derby

  1. Julie May 9, 2012 at 11:58 pm #

    Love the couple in red!

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