Known as “the fastest two minutes in sports,” the Kentucky Derby is revving up for its 142nd running on Saturday.
But if you happen to blink and miss the famous Thoroughbred horse race on TV or can’t make it to Louisville to squeeze on to the always-crowded infield, you can soak up the history and color surrounding this storied equine event the rest of the year at the Kentucky Derby Museum at Churchill Downs.
Even if you’re not much into horses, this is a don’t-miss attraction for anyone visiting Louisville or just passing through. And it’s especially worthwhile if you combine the museum exhibits – many of them hands-on or interactive and all of them informative – with a “Barn and Backside Van Tour” offered spring through fall, March 27-Nov. 30 this year. (Children must be eight years old or over 57 inches tall).
During our visit a few years ago, we got to see horses in their stalls and in the Pony Barn, including some getting hosed down by their handlers. We also watched other horses training on the historic racetrack – an exciting spectacle in the shadow of Churchill Down’s iconic Twin Spires.
On any given day of training, visitors may see a 2-year-old Thoroughbred in line to win next year’s Derby, a 9-year-old nearing retirement — or, according to the tour guide, even the past Derby winner.
Back inside, our hearts raced as we watched a thrilling, larger-than-life movie, “The Greatest Race,” in the museum’s full-circle theater. The 17-minute, 360-degree presentation has since been updated to feature v high-definition video and sound from American Pharoah’s 2015 Derby victory. Several other new exhibits highlighting the Triple Crown winner, the first since 1978, also were recently added to the museum.
Besides testing our skills as a jockey and learning how to call a race, we watched replays of past Derbies, read about winning horses, trainers, jockeys and owners and inspected original silks and tack from some of the winners. My favorite exhibits detailed elaborate Kentucky Derby parties, quirky traditions from the raucous “Third Turn” to Millionaires’ Row and fabulous fashions. And it was great fun afterward to try on fancy Derby hats in the museum’s Finish Line Gift Shop.
Be sure to drop by the Derby Café to taste such classics as a Louisville Hot Brown sandwich, the Kentucky stew called burgoo, Derby pie, mint juleps and a variety of bourbons.
Somehow during our visit we missed seeing the track’s miniature horse, Winston. But that’s just another reason to return.