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.
May 4-6, 2007
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 enormous...it 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
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 point...you 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.