Kentucky Trip
May 4-6, 2007

We took a trip to Kentucky for the 133rd running of the Kentucky Derby.  We made a full weekend of it; we drove up on Friday night and came back on Sunday.

We probably wouldn't normally mention the drive up there, but it was actually quite eventful.  Most of the drive was in the pouring rain, which always makes trips in unfamiliar places like Nashville loads of laughs.  We stopped at a Wal-Mart just south of Nashville so that Tammy could get a goofy hat to wear at the race (she had been back and forth all week about whether or not she wanted to wear one).  You can see the result below.  On the north side of Nashville, we ate supper at Fazoli's (we sure do miss that place, and seem to find one anytime we travel).  We got to our hotel (the lovely Hampton Inn in Horse Cave, KY) pretty late and were just happy to finally be there.

We got going pretty early Saturday morning, since we didn't know what to expect traffic-wise and we were about an hour and twenty minutes south of Churchill Downs.  Unlike most trips we go on, we purposely didn't research this one very much and didn't plan things out in advance.  We had looked up about parking, and word on the street (by "the street" we of course mean the internet) was that the best deal was to park at the Kentucky Fairgrounds and ride the shuttle to Churchill Downs.  We ate the free breakfast at our hotel and we didn't encounter any traffic to speak of, and were able to easily get a parking space at the fairgrounds, and there weren't even lines for the shuttles yet.  We got to the track about the time that the first race of the day was ending.

There's not really anything you can compare the atmosphere of the Kentucky Derby to.  Outside the gates, it's almost like the Quad before an Alabama football game: people walking everywhere, food vendors setup in the middle of everything, street preachers telling people they need to repent, etc.  Because we had brought chairs, we had to walk all the way around to the back gate- the only one you could bring chairs in.  We paid our general admission fee and went through the tightest security you'll find outside of an airport.  The infield is would take a while to walk all the way around it even if there weren't thousands of people everywhere.  There are parts of it we never did even venture over to.  Countless betting windows, food vendors, big TV screens that show you what's going on since you can't see much of it, and of course, thousands of people.  I think we heard that they usually have about 70,000 people in the infield.

We setup camp just back from the fence around turn 1...we were early enough to actually get seats pretty close to the track.  We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around Churchill Downs.  The people watching was great.  We went under the tunnel over to the grandstand area...Tammy said it reminded her of the Greek section at an Alabama game, but with more striped suits on the guys and big hats on the women.  For one of the early races, we watched them parade the horses around the paddock area, and also caught Gene Simmons being paraded around as well.  There were so many people that it was quite an effort to move between areas of the track.  We grabbed some lunch back at the infield, and later put our $5 bets on the horses we had each randomly selected for the big race (it's the 10th of 12).  Tammy's horse was "Hard Spun", and Ricky's was "Any Given Saturday".

When the bugler does his thing to announce that a race is about to go, the excitement in the air goes way up.  The people in the balconies come out, and the people in the grandstand area find their seats and everyone gets ready for the race.  Of course, a lot of the people have bets on every race, and some even have really complicated bets involving multiple races.

As the afternoon went on, leading up to the 6:04 PM start of the Derby itself, the crowd got a little rowdier.  Fortunately, we had picked a relatively PG rated section to sit in, but people had been drinking all afternoon by this do the math.  We enjoyed watching the people try to run across on top of the row of porta-potties while people threw bottles and cups at them.  We spotted Queen Elizabeth II really far away in the grandstands, but I don't think she was too tipsy.

When the big race finally started, the place was going nuts.  Tammy was going nuts because her horse had a commanding lead for almost the entire race, but right toward the end Street Sense (the favorite) came out of nowhere and passed everyone.  Ricky's horse finished 7th or 8th (out of 20).  To let the crowd dissipate some, we didn't leave until after the 11th race.  It really didn't help...the crowd was still crazy.  The lines for the shuttle where ridiculous and went almost the length of the track, so we decided to just walk back to the fairgrounds.  Looking back, it was probably still the right decision, but that walk wore us out...we were tired from the day, and Ricky had the two chairs on his back.  It took about 45 minutes.  We stopped on the way back to our hotel in Elizabethtown and ate dinner at Steak & Shake (another place we need in Birmingham).  After getting somewhat lost, we eventually made it back to our hotel.

Sunday morning, we slept in a bit and ate breakfast at the hotel.  We played pool in the game room.  After we checked out, we headed to Kentucky Sports Park. We rode the alpine slide, then tried out the Jesse James Miniature Golf course.  Tammy won after Ricky fell apart on the back 9.  From there, we headed back to Elizabethtown to check out something Tammy had found a brochure for...the relatively new Schmidt's Coca-Cola Museum, which is the largest privately owned collection of Coke memorabilia.  They had a lot of different types of stuff that the World of Coke in Atlanta doesn't have...especially older stuff.  It was really neat.  From there, we ate lunch at a place called Rafferty's, then headed back to Birmingham.

Click a picture to see a larger view.