It was like watching a silent movie. We could see the action but there was no sound and the action was so fast we couldn’t comprehend what our eyes had just seen. The only noise we did hear came from the screaming people watching the action happening. And for these first timers, it registered as a dream to actually witness such an event.
Thus, was our feeling of experiencing the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, live and in person. It was dream-like viewing “The Run for the Roses” as we saw the famous horse race from our Jockey Club Suite overlooking the racetrack because we were on a Tauck Events tour to see the Derby and experience the beautiful horse country area of Kentucky.
On the way to the Derby, I happen to sit beside a man who said he was from Louisville so I asked him what horse was ranked high for winning the Derby. And he told me several names. But when he mentioned Always Dreaming I said that’s the one I will bet on because I just loved the name. It was so appropriate for the horse to always be dreaming for a win.
June Landrum. my traveling companion, and I are not gamblers. But we were at the Kentucky Derby #143 and just had to gamble once. So, June came up with the idea of betting $2 on each horse so both would gamble $20 on 20 horses. Our bet would total $40. And we would pick the winner no matter who it was we reasoned. And yes, we picked the winner Always Dreaming and collected $11.50 for first place. We split the winnings and had a wonderful time with our scheme of betting and picking the winner.
But I just had to bet on Always Dreaming as it was the horse I said I would bet on. So, with $10 in hand, I placed my first bet ever on a horse race. And yes. I won and after I won, I asked myself why I didn’t bet $100 or $1000 if I was so sure Always Dreaming would win. But it was fun gambling for the first time at the Kentucky Derby and picking the winner.
At the Kentucky Derby, it was “normal” for women and men to dress up and it was a fashion show like no other. Every color, size and shape of hat was worn by ladies of every color shape and size. But the most outstanding of the fashion show was the huge outstanding statement-making ladies hats. Those hats set the southern mood of the Derby as it had been done for 147 years. And the men’s outfits completed the fun and theme of the classic Kentucky Derby.
But before we could go on this tour, we just had to make our hats to wear to the Derby although they were not required for the tour event. But attending the Derby without that world-famous tradition of a big hat would not complete the experience for us first timers. So, June Landrum and I designed and re-designed our hats until we were happy with our creations.
I wanted a black hat with a big brim, so my sister offered one of her sun hats that had a large brim. And from that, I took it around with me as I shopped for the perfect decorations. It was fun creating and making our hats and June and I had many fun conversations on how our designs were working for our Kentucky Derby event. June’s hat was a gift from her grandson and she never planned to use it for the Derby. But after purchasing little roses, she decided to put them on the hat to wear to the Derby because it was “the Run for the Roses.”
Our next creation was how to get the newly created hat to Kentucky. So, I used an old packing trick that worked for many other hats I had purchased on several of my foreign trips and it worked for this Derby hat. I put the hat flat in my luggage and stuffed the crown full of clothes I was taking that did not wrinkle. And I put clothes flat under the hat and on top of the brim. That kept the hat in its original shape and it made it to Louisville safely and intact. The decorations were in a rigid plastic container.
When we arrived, we glued all the silk flowers and feathers on the brim and the hat was ready to wear. June made her hat by gluing those silk roses on the hat and we had our personal creations to parade around at the Derby.
But we didn’t just parade around at the Kentucky Derby in them. We also wore them the day before the Derby at the Kentucky Oaks, the “pre-Derby” race and ‘The Run for the lilies”. And we wore them for all the 10 races before the Kentucky Derby on Derby day. It was so much fun walking around in the rain in our decorated hats as we looked at others with their decorated hats. It was a first time to ever do such an event and it was just an awesome experience.
Now that our hats were designed and worn at a race, we had to participate in Bridles and Bourbon. So, we visited the time-honored art of distilling, aging, and bottling fine Kentucky Bourbon at the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky, the oldest continually operating distillery in America. And yes, we had to sample their award-winning product and then have a barbeque lunch in the Clubhouse at Buffalo Trace. It all was so delicious as was the welcome reception and dinner with a local bluegrass band and folk-dance troupe.
As we drove to Margaux Farms, we enjoyed the clean and gorgeous green-hill farms of Lexington, Kentucky. This visit was to see the horses in their stalls at the Brood Farm and how they are worked and managed for breeding. As we walked into one barn, all the horses bellowed at once their neigh-neigh sound as they looked at us. And I just loved our wonderful unique horse greeting we were given until the keepers told us the horses were calling for food, not us. And another keeper told us they were wanting to exercise. Anyway, each of our Tauck group greeted a horse and enjoyed learning the methods used to make sure each mare got pregnant. But we didn’t have any food or exercise for them.
But then, the next morning, we had to be at Kneeland Race Track at 6 a.m. to watch the jockeys exercise the horses at that race track. It was cool enough for a jacket and we could see the horse’s breath as they finished their race exercises. Again, I was amazed how quiet it was as they ran. And it was so fast, we didn’t get a good look at them until they stopped and came up to us for photos and a visit.
Having dinner at Kneeland Race Track with Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron was another highlight of our Kentucky Derby experience. In his speech, he gave a wonderful overview of his unbelievable racing wins from the beginning at 19 years to retirement 28 years later. And when he retired he was thoroughbred’s All-Time leader, and his purse earnings totaled more than $264 million in winnings and 7,141 races won.
It had been raining for 2 days but as soon as the thoroughbreds started running, it stopped and they stopped after 2 minutes and the race was over. And the rainy and muddy conditions didn’t hinder anyone at the Kentucky Derby. But the excitement before the race was so much fun and it kept building as 150,000 persons placed their bets on the winners. And we picked the winner, Always Dreaming. But If you blinked your eyes, you missed it because they were running 40 miles per hour for the roses.
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