Skip to content

COLUMN: Kentucky visit dulls Derby desire

Churchill Downs is a nice place to visit, but that might not be the case when it plays host to 150,000 people for the Kentucky Derby.
Historic Churchill Downs in Louisville is home of the Kentucky Derby.

As a horse racing fan, I’ve long had the Kentucky Derby on my bucket list, but after visiting Churchill Downs, home of racing’s most famous race, I’m not so sure about that anymore. 

I spent three days at the historic track in Louisville, Kentucky earlier this month, awestruck by its massive footprint and all the history of the last 150 years, but dubious that I’d want to return when it plays host to 150,000 souls on Derby Day. 

For those unfamiliar with horse racing, tracks operate meets where they’ll run race cards multiple times a week. Meets can last anywhere from a couple of weeks to the better part of a year, depending on the track, and typically feature signature races. Churchill Downs’ spring meet is highlighted by the Kentucky Derby, run on the first Saturday in May, so visiting in mid-June means you get to see big-time racing, but not the biggest race of them all. 

I very much enjoyed watching, and wagering on, the action from my box seat near the finish line, but judging from the enormity of the place and how pretty much every square inch of it is covered in seating, I could only imagine the circus it becomes for the Derby. I suspect it’s my age, but the thought of lining up for everything, from shuttle buses to placing a bet to going to the restroom, is enough to dull my enthusiasm for the big day. 

I also shuddered to think what my $16 box seat would cost for the Derby, likely at least 100 times that if not more, only to have some not-so-conveniently placed pillars and a sea of humanity obstruct my view of the racetrack. It made watching it in HD at home not seem like such a bad idea after all. 

While I was in Kentucky, I got an opportunity to visit a couple of former Derby winners at Old Friends, a farm for retired racehorses on the outskirts of Lexington, about an hour east of Louisville. 

Among the more than 150 horses spread out over 200 acres were 2012 winner I’ll Have Another, who came running to the fence when the tour stopped by, knowing we’d all be armed with carrots, and Silver Charm, who, at 30 years old, has to be fed carrot shreds because he’s lost his teeth. 

Back in 1997, Silver Charm was vying to become the first Triple Crown winner in two decades but was denied that honour when he ran second in the final leg, the Belmont Stakes, to Touch Gold, who so happens to reside about 100 yards away from him now and is also on the shreds program because of his lack of teeth. 

I also visited Lane’s End Farm, one of Kentucky’s foremost breeding operations, primarily to see Flightline, arguably the most talented horse of this century, who capped an undefeated career with a record-breaking win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2022. 

He now stands at stud for a $150,000 fee, proving there is more than one way to enjoy your retirement in Kentucky. 

Ted Murphy

About the Author: Ted Murphy

Read more


push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks