Monday, October 25, 2010 Cloudy with sprinkles in the morning; then partly sunny and 74 degrees
As we drove to Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, we were stunned to find it located in a residential area, completely surrounded with homes. What a zoo during Derby Week! We had lost an hour changing time zones so we barely arrived in time for a tour of the grounds. As we headed out for the tour our guide showed us the "shingles" with the horse's name and year that he/she won the Kentucky Derby that are on the walls around the entire stadium just above the entrances, all 138 of them. Those who won the Triple Crown have their names printed in gold. Secretariat still holds the record time for the Kentucky Derby. When he died an autopsy revealed that his heart weighed 22 pounds; Sham, the horse who came in second to him, had a heart weighing 18 pounds; the average thoroughbred's heart weighs 8 pounds. Thus the explanation of Secretariat's amazing stamina.
We learned that only three-year-old horses run the Kentucky Derby. (Interestingly every horse's birthday is January 1st regardless of when they were actually born.) Of those only the twenty nominated horses, who have grossed the most winnings prior to the derby, are allowed to participate and then only after their owners have paid $50,000 in the two step nomination process.
As we walked past the old wagering windows, we learned about the types of betting and how they were placed. During the early 1900's when betting was illegal, the law was circumvented when parimutuel betting was introduced.
Next we walked toward the paddock on tiles made of recycled tires that are used to cushion the horses hooves. In the paddock we heard that the horses are paraded around a small track so they may be viewed by the crowd before trainers saddle them for the derby. Meanwhile the jockeys are being weighed to ensure that the all of the horses are carrying 126 pounds (121 pounds if the horse is a filly) during the race. Weights are added, if necessary, to equalize the loads. Once the jockeys reach the paddock and the trainers help them mount, the horses are paraded again and then led out to the track. Each derby entrant has another horse and rider with them as they head toward the gates to keep them calm. The race begins as soon as all of the horses have entered the gates, and the gates are closed.
Our last stop was the grandstand. Boxes have six seats and the entire box must be purchased at $600 for each seat. The owners boxes are just above them. To the left is 'Millionaire's Row" where stars and celebrities are seated. A five year commitment of $6,000 per year is required to retain a seat there. Meanwhile general admission to the grandstand is $70, and $40 gets a person a place to stand in the grass oval within the track. As we learned about the track itself---75% sand, 23% silt, and 2% clay---the vice-president and general manager of Churchill Downs was grading the track. Such is his commitment to racing.
The Kentucky Derby Museum tells anything and everything about horse racing. The introductory film portrayed Derby Day from 5:30 a.m. until the race is over: the lengthy preparations of the trainer, the groom, the jockey, the owner, and the horse. The various rooms display the owners' silks and owners' dresses and hats; jockey's clothing, boots, and crop; trophies and horseshoes. Videos show derby races, owners discussing their horses, and offer trivia questions. Kiosks gave information about the more famous horses, their breeding, the wins, and some times their losses.
The upper floor is all about the horses. The choice of stud and broodmare is dependent on their racing successes and physical characteristics. As soon as the foal can stand after birth, he is fitted with a halter. From then on he goes through an imprinting process so he is used to being handled by people. The roles groom, the trainer, the "hot-walker," the veterinarian, the jockey, and the owner are given in detail. Next May when we watch the Kentucky Derby at home, we'll have a new appreciation of all the has preceded the race.
By the way, Churchill Downs was named by Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr., the grandson of William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Upon purchasing the grounds he named it after his two uncles whose last name was Churchill.
Later we went in search of a distillery. Instead we found Woodford Thoroughbreds, Pin Oak Stud, and Summer Winds Farms. Miles of wooden fences delineate the pastures around the horse farms where the horses were grazing. The farms have multiple stables, exercise tracks, and practice gates. We went from reading about thoroughbred horse racing to the reality of where it all begins. An interesting day.
TODAY'S ROUTE: from Evansville, IN, I 64E to Louisville, KY, I 264E to Exit 9 at Churchill Downs; then I 264E to I 64E Exit 69; finally US 62N to Georgetown, KY