(Kentucky) Derby Week Should Be Renamed Derby Month - Louisville KY

Published: May 14th 2015
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I was Googling a steamboat excursion on the Mississippi River, perhaps Memphis to Saint Louis and back, when I happened upon a steamboat race. Now, this is the kind of unique event that finds its way right onto Uncle Larry’s “A List!” Further examination revealed the Belle of Louisville annually races the Belle of Cincinnati on the Ohio River. It’s not an excursion but an evening trip of a few hours. That works for me! Further research revealed there is a horse race the Saturday following the steamboat race – the Kentucky Derby.

The Kentucky Derby Festival (KDF) began, believe it or not, on January 15, 2015 with the Norton Sports Health Training Program. The program was a 14-week conditioning program to ready contestants for the KDF Marathon and miniMarathon. Whew! What a relief to learn that I wouldn’t be missing out on a premier KDF event, because Louisville is W-A-Y too far north to lure this old body in mid-January. Actually, I learned of this KDF kick-off from my free magazine style 2015 KDF Official Program which I didn’t receive until after I arrived in Louisville metro on Wednesday, April 22, 2015.

The KDF Unveiling was held on February 26, 2015. For $30.00 ($35.00 at the door), you can be “the first to own your own 2015 merchandise so you can impress all your friends and business associates!” A Pegasus Pin is your season ticket to get you into over 30 different events and concerts. The pins are available at numerous locations beforehand (I got mine at the downtown Louisville Visitor Center which would be a GREAT stop early in your visit) and at each of the venues where the Pegasus Pin is the price of admission. Here’s a sample of some of the events leading up to the day of the opening ceremonies: Ford Motor Company Spelling Bee, Macy’s Spring Fashion Show, KDF Foundation Student Art Contest, Stock Yards Bank and Trust Hole-in-One Golf Contest, They’re Off Luncheon and The Fillies Derby Ball.

Opening Ceremonies: Thunder over Louisville is an all day event that began with Ford's Thunder on the Ground which appears to have been kid-oriented. Thunder over Louisville began at 3 PM with an airshow and ended with a 30-minute fireworks extravaganza. The air show included the Golden Knights, the Trojan Horsemen, Flash Gordon, the Canadian Harvards, Billy Werth, the Thunderbirds, Cliff Robinson Stearman, Acemaker and a Harrier Demo
The Launch Site Is Very SpaciousThe Launch Site Is Very SpaciousThe Launch Site Is Very Spacious

Great Balloon Rush-Hour Race - Louisville KY
along with several others. No, I don’t know what all those folks do either, but Google is a wonderful tool! The nighttime sky plays background for the largest annual fireworks display in North America. At 9:30 PM the fireworks began and at 10:01 PM the traffic jams got underway!

I mentioned in my Memphis TN blog that I “had plans for Thursday at my next destination.” Those plans were for two U.S. Bank-sponsored Great BalloonFest hot air balloon events: the Crew Challenge and the Great Balloon Glimmer on Thursday late afternoon and evening of April 23, 2015. Unfortunately, the winds were such that the pilots would not have even considered pulling the balloons out of the bag.

Friday morning was a different day. The air was crisp but still – a perfect morning to heat some air at the Great Balloon Rush Hour Race. Having no experience with Louisville traffic, I headed for the launch site about 5:30 AM and arrived well before dawn. Officials and the media were on scene when I arrived as were a few competitors and some spectators. Most were keeping warm inside a cozy vehicle. As more competitors arrived and took their launch positions,
There Was A Small Crowd On A Workday AfternoonThere Was A Small Crowd On A Workday AfternoonThere Was A Small Crowd On A Workday Afternoon

Kroger’s Fest-a-Ville - Louisville KY
vehicle headlights divulged a heavy frost coated the grassy field. Self to self, “Uncle Larry, are you sure you want to be this far north so early in the spring?” By the time the dozen or so balloons had departed, with me doing likewise shortly thereafter, the sun had not yet climbed high enough over the horizon to the melt the stubborn frost.

Friday evening had a favorable weather forecast, and the Great Balloon Glow was scheduled for late evening (there is no glow without at least some level of darkness); however, overnight and into Saturday morning, the weather was to deteriorate to bona fide crummy for all day Saturday. I already had decided to cancel whatever plans I had, or was considering, for Saturday – including attending the scheduled 7 AM (launch time) Great Balloon Race. Apparently, I wasn’t the only person who checked the forecast, because, and unbeknownst to me, the Glow was cancelled and, instead, the Race was moved up to early Friday evening. Well, I at least got to see one of the five balloon events!

Monday was a beautiful “Chamber of Commerce” day so I headed to Waterfront Park in downtown Louisville for
And They’re Off!And They’re Off!And They’re Off!

Great Bed Race - Louisville KY
Kroger’s Fest-a-Ville on the Waterfront for my first foray into this venue. Fest-a-Ville was open from April 23 to May 1 from 11 AM to 11 PM (except the opening time on Sunday was 12 Noon) and was the venue for food, drink and merriment. At least three bands performed daily. I stayed a few hours, had some interesting food and struck up a conversation or two.

Monday late afternoon and evening was another fan favorite – The Great Bed Race. First, the Official Tailgate Party started at 4:00 PM, was followed by the Parade of the Beds at 6:00 PM and culminated with the Races at 7:00 PM. Certain requirements are imposed to make the competition fair for all, and lots of removable embellishments which adorn the “beds” for the tailgate party and the parade somehow disappear before the race. Each team gets one lap around the figure 8 course and the best time wins. What a hoot!

Tuesday evening was the Pegasus® Parade Preview Party. It was a chance to see the parade floats up close and personal and to get to talk to some of the creative minds. It was also an opportunity for many non-profits to set up tables with
America’s Pastime – Who Else But Louisville SluggerAmerica’s Pastime – Who Else But Louisville SluggerAmerica’s Pastime – Who Else But Louisville Slugger

Pegasus Parade Preview Party - Louisville KY
literature and to promote their causes. It was fun, and I’m sure glad I went to the preview party.

Drum roll, please. Wednesday evening was the, ta-dah, Great Steamboat Race. The competition between the hometown favorite, the Belle of Louisville, and the Delta Queen was first held on the Ohio River in 1963, with the Delta Queen capturing the inaugural contest. The race series between the two historic vessels ended in 2008 with the hometown Belle of Louisville finishing with an overall record of 22 wins versus the Delta Queen’s 20 victories. The Delta Queen’s ownership, home and fate since 2008 has been convoluted, but now appears secure as she is undergoing restoration in New Orleans LA.

Since the Delta Queen’s departure, the Belle of Cincinnati has provided most of the competition for the Belle of Louisville. The race really isn’t a single race between the boats but, rather, a series of ten events (the tenth being the boat race) contested by the rival crews on-board, as well as onshore. Points are awarded, and the winner is the vessel that accumulates the most points. During one of the preliminary onshore events, I learned from a Belle of Cincinnati crew member that their boat had hosted
The Belle of Louisville At BerthThe Belle of Louisville At BerthThe Belle of Louisville At Berth

The Great Steamboat Race - Louisville KY
a Texas Hold 'Em Tournament the previous evening.

Even though a ticket aboard the Belle of Louisville was about fifty percent more than one aboard the Belle of Cincinnati, I opted to sail on the hometown favorite, the Belle of Louisville. Boarding for the Belle of Louisville started about 4:30 PM. I took a quick orientation stroll about the ship and found a group of three chairs with two vacancies. My query got me an invitation to join a Louisville couple for the cruise. He had served in the Army in Vietnam. Full service bars and a bourbon tasting (provided by Four Roses Bourbon) were open immediately upon boarding. A buffet opened shortly after departing the dock.

Boom! And they’re off! My new acquaintances and I were seated on an intermediate deck several feet back from the main deck rail and had great views of the spectators along the shoreline as well as those perched on the bridges overhead plus the revelers below. We periodically were enjoying the antics of a group of young women (old enough to know better but too young to care) directly in front of us when I noted that one particular gal appeared to have become bourbonized. We had a good chuckle and located several other bourbonized voyagers over the remainder of the cruise. Oh, yes, the Belle of Louisville won.

Thursday I visited two non-Derby attractions with plans to attend the Pegasus® Parade in late afternoon. The day started off chilly and overcast but worsened and became cold, windy and plain miserable so I allowed common sense to prevail and headed for the Pilgrim. Like I stated earlier, I’m sure glad I went to the Pegasus® Parade Preview Party.

Whatever weather invaded on Thursday had dissipated by Friday, and the weather was gorgeous. There were no Derby activities, because the Kentucky Oaks was on the docket. The Kentucky Oaks was first run on May 19, 1875 when Churchill Downs was known as the Louisville Jockey Club. The Oaks and the Derby are the oldest continuously contested sporting events in history and are the only horse races to be held at their original site since inception. I considered attending the Oaks but decided to enjoy a day of leisure.

Saturday was the first jewel of the Triple Crown – The Kentucky Derby. The 1-¼ mile race is a Grade I stakes race (whatever that means) for three-year-old
The Jousting Competition Was One Of The Ways To Earn PointsThe Jousting Competition Was One Of The Ways To Earn PointsThe Jousting Competition Was One Of The Ways To Earn Points

The Great Steamboat Race - Louisville KY
Thoroughbreds run at Churchill Downs in Louisville. The Derby is alternately known (for its approximate duration) as "The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports" or "The Fastest Two Minutes in Sports" and is also called "The Run for the Roses" for the blanket of roses draped over the winner.

I had been watching the web site and had seen tickets were still available on Tuesday before the steamboat race; however, during the steamboat race, my companions told me to avoid the infield since little, if any, of the race can be seen and because the infield is merely a location to party with reckless abandon. Nope, too old and cranky for that! Well, ‘ole Uncle Larry wasn’t about to miss the flavor of the Derby so I headed for Churchill Downs about noonish. The traffic at the freeway exit was backed up for three miles. I bypassed exits with a traffic jam and approached from the south via surface streets.

I arrived at what I thought was Churchill Downs, entered the parking lot and paid the $20.00 parking fee. And I thought Graceland was outrageous! I found a spot in Row AA. Self to self, “That’s not bad,
The Ram Is Stranded Somewhere In That Asphalt OceanThe Ram Is Stranded Somewhere In That Asphalt OceanThe Ram Is Stranded Somewhere In That Asphalt Ocean

Kentucky Derby Day - Louisville KY
26 rows back.” When I got to Row P, it appeared as though I hadn’t advanced at all. By the time I was at Row F, I knew I was more than 6 rows from the “track.” When I got to Row A, I learned that I had parked in Section B. No problem. A repeat performance of Section B unfolded in Section A only to find about 20 rows of handicapped parking adjacent to the %*&$@ University of Louisville football stadium!

I was an obedient little ant and followed the line of beautiful people up a flight of stairs to street level where hawkers were selling tickets to the race. I didn’t ask the price but did ask if THAT was Churchill Downs off in the distance. Yup. I don’t think so! All the ladies that were wearing the fancy hats (and whom I wanted to photograph) would have been inside the track by the time I would have arrived. So, Uncle Larry positioned himself where he could take some pictures of the ladies wearing the fancy hats as they were preparing to ascend the aforementioned steps. I intentionally used the term “fancy hats” instead of “pretty hats”
Beautiful People …Beautiful People …Beautiful People …

Kentucky Derby Day - Louisville KY
because pretty is totally subjective. After all, they probably qualified as pretty to the designer and to the buyer. When the influx of beautiful people waned, I got in the Ram and was safe at home before the traffic jams had even begun.

My first “Derby Week” was a major learning experience. I somehow missed Thunder over Louisville in my planning process, but this year, the year of the kidney stone removals, there wasn’t much I could have reasonably changed to have hastened my arrival date. Tips I learned at my first KDF. First, contact KDF to have the Official Program mailed to you when it becomes available. A program works better for me so I can highlight, circle, underline, dog-ear and otherwise abuse the information so it suits my needs. Second, get the KDF app. I found out about the app way late, but I am told it alerts you to sudden changes in schedules – like the change in the hot air balloon schedule because of the weather forecast.

Third, make the Louisville Convention & Visitor Bureau an early stop in your visit. They have a great staff with a bundle of information. Fourth, take a ride on the Main
… Wearing Fancy Hats… Wearing Fancy Hats… Wearing Fancy Hats

Kentucky Derby Day - Louisville KY
Street Circulator which provides FREE service along Main and Market Streets (parallel and one block apart). This FREE bus will get you around downtown where dozens of attractions are located. The “orientation ride” will give you a foundation for navigating downtown Louisville. I used the free street parking on Main St. near the Thomas Edison House and rode the bus. Very convenient! Actually, I think the bus was easier than remembering what floor of which parking deck, etc.

The Kentucky Derby is on every “Top 20 Things to See before You Die” list I have ever seen. Will I come back? Perhaps, but it’s doubtful. The Kentucky Derby Festival is really cool, but once you’ve seen it…. I’m just not that big of a fan of large crowds and monstrous traffic jams anymore. Access to the track seemed poorly organized – even the shuttle buses, taxis and limousines were caught in the throes of bumper to bumper traffic. If I do return for the Derby, I’ll get my ticket to the grandstand well in advance, will arrive at the track about 5 AM (nap) and, after the race, (nap) so I can depart about midnight. What did I miss? A mint julep!

Additional photos below
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And Let The Heating Begin!And Let The Heating Begin!
And Let The Heating Begin!

Great Balloon Rush-Hour Race - Louisville KY
It’s Amazing How Quickly The Balloons Become VerticalIt’s Amazing How Quickly The Balloons Become Vertical
It’s Amazing How Quickly The Balloons Become Vertical

Great Balloon Rush-Hour Race - Louisville KY
And they’re Off!And they’re Off!
And they’re Off!

Great Balloon Rush-Hour Race - Louisville KY
Hungry, Anyone?Hungry, Anyone?
Hungry, Anyone?

Great Bed Race - Louisville KY
Some Of The Teams Got Very CreativeSome Of The Teams Got Very Creative
Some Of The Teams Got Very Creative

Great Bed Race - Louisville KY
The Teams And The Beds On ParadeThe Teams And The Beds On Parade
The Teams And The Beds On Parade

Great Bed Race - Louisville KY

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