~Wednesday, June 23, 2021~
Up with the birds this morning. Alarm went off at 5:30 a.m. to get to our 7:30 tour of the Race Horse Workout Tour at Churchill Downs. The drive was about an hour from our campground. The last time we were at Churchill Downs in mid April, we tried to book this specific tour, but they were all booked up, which would make sense since the Kentucky Derby was just around the corner at that time. But this time, we were lucky to secure a spot.
There’s no better way to start the day than to watch these majestic Thoroughbreds train up-close and personal. We were given a little background about the facility before we walked out to the racetrack. There are over 1,400 horse stalls at Churchill Downs and another 500 at trackside. Horses are exercised in the early morning, obviously because it’s cooler. Some of the thoroughbreds are brought out next to another horse, called ponying. These pony horses are usually a Palomino or a Quarter horse, and are meant to calm and steady an uptight racehorse. These pony horses are vital to the horse racing community. It appears that the exercise rider is given instruction ahead of time of what that horse particularly needs in terms of their workout. Some horses are in better shape than others. Riders can be retired jockeys or jockey school students.
They are ALL of small stature. Most were men, though we did see a few women out there. One in fact came up to us but wouldn’t let us pet her “mean” horse. Her comment: “I love working with the problem children. They’re just misunderstood”. Each horse is given about a 20-minute workout before their cool down. Watching these beautiful horses step
out onto the track for their morning workout is simply wonderful. But even more exciting is seeing them thunder down the race track, even if they’re not going all out 100%. Generally their workout sprints are between 50-80%. A few of the exercise riders came up to us, so we could pet them. Our tour guide asked a few of the riders if their horse liked peppermint in which their reply was “no”. But some do and we also found out they like beer….the horses that is. Well maybe the jockeys like it too. But since beer is mostly made of wheat, it’s only natural a horse would like it. What a great way to start the day and definitely worth waking up early for. As we were led away from the racetrack, we found out there are twilight races on Thursdays, starting at 5:00 p.m. $5 to get in, live music, food trucks and $1 beers. I think this would be worth another hour long drive, don’t you think?
The next part of the tour was inside the museum where we watched the documentary, “The Greatest Race” in a 360-degree cinema. The sound and visual effects were awesome! Very well done. If you’ve never thought you wanted to attend the Kentucky Derby, this film will change your mind. Next was the “Behind the Scenes” tour. Luckily we had the same tour guide that joined us on the “workout” tour. The last behind the scenes tour we had in April was of the Millionaire’s Room, the wagering area and from the vantage point from above looking down onto the track. Today’s tour was more of the ground level. As we came out to the grandstand area, we saw a few more lingering horses (youngsters), getting in their exercise. We learned that the beverage of choice at the Kentucky Derby is a Mint Julep (bourbon, simple syrup and mint). Sounds refreshing, but our tour guide likened it to an overrated cough syrup. Sounds like it requires an acquired taste.
Next was the museum itself, which goes on forever. We thoroughly enjoyed being completely immersed in the world of Thoroughbreds for a few hours. From the jockeys, to the owners, the handlers, the farms where these animals are bred, the anatomy and bloodlines of these beautiful creatures, and the training…... it is quite a business. I’m just in awe of it all, especially the horses themselves.
Since we were in Louisville, we thought we’d hit up the Trader Joe’s there. Picked up some good looking salmon and other goodies. The dinner tonight was fabulous. Jeff tried a new salmon recipe with a spice rub and bourbon sauce. It was absolutely delicious along with garlic mashed potatoes and artichoke. A fun, but exhausting day. Nighty, night.