A visit to Louisville, Kentucky, isn’t complete without a visit to the Kentucky Derby Museum on the grounds of the Churchill Downs racetrack. Even if you’ve never followed horse racing and you’re not a regular at gambling sites, you’ll find all kinds of fascinating history going back nearly a century-and-a-half to the first running of the Kentucky Derby — the most exciting two minutes in sports.
And here are my top 7 reasons to put the Kentucky Derby Museum at the top of your list of places to visit in Louisville, Kentucky.
#1 – Discover the History of Horse Racing From the 1840s to Now
The Kentucky Derby is the longest continuously running horse race in the US. Both of the other Triple Crown Races started earlier, but missed years: Belmont Stakes started in 1867, and the Preakness Stakes in 1873. The Triple Crown, while commissioned in 1950, honors each horse that has won all three races throughout horse racing history.
In fact, the Triple Crown is the feature of the Museum’s exhibit: Justify (first winner in 1919) and a Century of the Crown.
When it opened in 1985, the Museum collected more than a century of thoroughbred racing history. In 2010, it was completely renovated after being damaged in a flood in 2009. In addition to artifacts, the Kentucky Derby museum has a large collection of images, printed and oral materials, as well as a full free online digital collection.
In addition to what museum curators have gathered, the collection includes research archives from a number of others. Jim Bolus, author of seven books and a one-time curator of the museum, left his materials to the museum on his death in 1997. Industry participants, like trainer, D. Wayne Lukas and jockey, Bill Shoemaker, also contributed significantly.
#2 – See How Race Horses Are Trained on One of the Kentucky Derby Museum Track Tours
When I visited the Kentucky Derby Museum, tour guide, Miss Angie, took my group on the Barn and Backside Van Tour. It took us around the barns area, eventually letting us off to watch the horses practice from a vantage point right beside the track, rather than the stands.
While I was lucky to see horses that were entered in the Kentucky Derby, there are horses stabled at Churchill Downs through the whole season, so no matter when you visit there will be some racehorses around. Grooms will be bathing them, cold walking them before practice and cooling them out after running. You can be sure you’ll get an insider’s view of what happens in the stables before horses get to the finish line.
I also took the Walking Tour through the Jockeys’ Quarters, Millionaires’ Row, the Press Box and other areas of Churchill Downs.
#3 – Learn About Your Favorite Kentucky Derby Winner at the Kentucky Derby Museum
I have one all-time favorite racehorse, the first Canadian horse to ever win the Kentucky Derby, Northern Dancer.
This young stallion won seven of nine starts when he was a two-year-old, so when his new Texan jockey, Bill Shoemaker, got him as a three-year-old, he was already an established winner. Shoemaker, however, decided to ride Hill Rise in the Kentucky Derby, leaving Bill Hartack to become Northern Dancer’s permanent jockey.
I remember the 1964 Run for the Roses (another popular name for the Kentucky Derby) well. It was May 2, 1964 — I was as excited as all the other Derby fans as I watched the black and white television count down to race time. Even though he was a small horse, Northern Dancer was still a Kentucky Derby favorite, running second in the betting only to Hill Rise, the horse Shoemaker had chosen to ride.
Both Hartack and Shoemaker held their horses back at the start of the race, so Mr.