Friday, June 28, 2013

Louisville, Kentucky: Part 1 - Churchill Downs...

I hadn't seen my buddy Mark since 2003, when he and some other friends visited San Diego. Prior to that, he'd visited in 2001, back when I was working at Go Guitars.
 
We first became friends when I worked for America Online years ago. I was one of the moderators for the AOL Guitar Special Interest Group (or "SIG). Despite the anonymity such an environment provides, it was easy to tell who the older guy were; those who actually knew what the Hell they were talking about. There were maybe a half dozen of us, and Mark was one. He and I also have the Navy in common, although I spent a bit longer in than he did.
 
Naturally, when I saw the opportunity, I decided to swing through Louisville on my trip east and pay him a visit. Mark's home is always open to friends, and there's always a cold one in the fridge.
 
As it was still mid-June, school was still in session. Being a music teacher, Mark couldn't just bail and hang out all day, so that gave me a little bit of time to go out exploring. There were a few places I wanted to see, so I decided to lay out a big circle around Louisville and see as much as I could.

The one place I really wanted to check out was yet another on my list of "Ghost Adventure" visits. Waverly Hills Sanatorium opened in 1910, and was originally designed to house 40 to 50 tuberculosis patients. It closed in 1962, after newly developed medications helped negate the need for such facilities.

I didn't hold out a lot of hope, as it's privately owned, and my suspicions were confirmed when I rolled up to the one gate I could find, with signs warning against unauthorized entry.

Nope...
I opted against doing anything which might get me in trouble and, instead, turned the truck north towards Churchill Downs.
 

Churchill Downs is, of course, home to the the first leg of horse racing's Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby. It opened in 1875, and has been operating steadily ever since.

The entrance to the Visitor's Center at Churchill Downs, with a sculpture of 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro. Barbaro would be euthanized less than a year later due to complications from a shattered bone in his leg...

I opted to take the $14.00 tour, which included a really informative movie, entrance to the museum and a tour of the grounds.


A statue depicting the 2013 Kentucky Derby winner Orb and jockey Joel Rosario...


The "in the round" movie theatre inside the museum...

The museum had quite a collection of memorabilia, from jockey silks to ladies hats. They even had the bridle worn by Secretariat when he won the Derby in 1973, when he became the first horse in 25 years to win the fabled Triple Crown:

Secretariat's bridle from 1973...

Somewhere, at some point, someone told a lot of women that these hats looked good...

There were no crowds here on the day I visited, save for those taking the tour like I was, but it wasn't hard to imagine what this place is like when there are. There are rows and rows of betting windows that are only open on Derby Day:


Despite the investment made, these betting windows are used on one day a year...

It would've been nice, I'm sure, to be here on "race day; I mean, any race day. I've been to Del Mar a couple of times, as well as a long-defunct track back on Long Island called "Parr Meadows" (no relation, apparently) back in the 70's. There's always an excitement wherever you go, and I can only imagine how amplified that excitement would be for the Kentucky Derby.

Still, it was nice to be able to see "the front stretch"; that piece of real estate that so few horses ever actually get to see:


The front stretch at Churchill Downs...

Probably the coolest part of the tour is finding out that they always have a Kentucky Derby winner "in residence". For my visit, it was Mine That Bird. Mine That Bird won the Derby in 2009, in an exceptionally monumental upset. His odds were 50 to1:

Mine That Bird...

Personally, I think I would've enjoyed seeing a bit more of the facility. I don't mean to suggest that the tour was too short; it wasn't. But I still would've enjoyed being able to see the track from the grandstand, which is one of the most recognizable in all of sports.

That said, it was a great site to see during my all-too-brief Louisville visit. If you ever find yourself with a couple of hours to spare in Louisville, allow me to suggest that you just drive right past Waverly Hills, and spend your time at one of the greatest sporting facilities anywhere in the world...

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