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Let's Talk Derby

By Kathleen Walls

It's been called "the fastest two minutes in sports" but the festivities surrounding America's premier Thoroughbred race last far longer than that. The race is held the first Saturday in May and is the culmination of a two week long Kentucky Derby Festival. Louisville Kentucky is the home of the world famous track and it pulls out all stops these two weeks. The opening event gets off with a bang. Literally. The Galt House Hotel, official hotel of the Derby, offers Thunder over Louisville, the biggest fireworks display in the nation.

Since the Kentucky Derby is the first leg of the prestigious Triple Crown, the city is filled with visitors wanting to sample Mint Juleps and Derby Pie. Don't you just sense that anything with a sweet bourbon drink and a chocolate and pecan pie for an official food has to be fun! Burgoo, a thick stew of beef, chicken, pork and vegetables, is another traditional Kentucky dish served at the Derby. Of course there are lots of other fun foods like the Famous Hot Brown served at the prestigious Brown Hotel.

The Galt House's Derby display

There are lots of other traditions associated with the famous race. Every year, Stephen Foster's My Old Kentucky Home is played as the horses parade past the elite "Millionaire's Row," that very expensive, very ex-clusive section filled with very well dressed people. Naturally, all the ladies wear very elabo-rate wide brimmed hats, another Derby tradition. You might see any num-ber of the very rich and famous there. Some of last year's celebs included Erin Andrews, Bill Paxton, Jennifer Tilly, Bobby Flay, Ron White, Mary Wilson, Lindsey Vonn and Kix Brooks. Queen Elizabeth even attended one year.

There are lots of upscale events such as the Taste of Derby, Barnstable Brown Gala, The Mint Jubilee, The Julep Ball, MAXIM Fillies and Stallions, Night of Silk and other posh parties.

Don't think you ned to be rich to join in the fun. The oldest Kentucky Derby Festival event, The Pegasus Parade, is a parade down Broadway from Campbell to 9th Street held annually on the Thursday before the Derby. You just pic a spot on the rout to enjoy the colorful floats, marching bands, giant inflatable cartoon characters, equestrians, and celebrities.

Then there is The Great Balloon Fest which is actually a series of five Kentucky Derby Festival Balloon Events climazing in The Great Balloon Race. The event that caught my eye was the Great Balloon Rush Hour Race, held during the rush-hour commute on the Friday morning before the Great Balloon Race. Hey, if you have to be stuck in traffic what better way to pass the time than watching the balloons float overhead as you sit stuck in traffic.

The Belle of Louisville

Another event anyone can enjoy for free during Derby Festival is the Battle of the Belles. Louisville's own Belle of Louisville takes on Belle of Cincinnati in a six mile race up the Ohio River and back. Kentucky Derby off-icials were originally re-luctant to allow the steam-boat race to be considered part of the Derby celebrat-ions since in olden days of racing a "boat race" was a term used to designate a rigged horse race. I have been told by a Louisville old-timer that the Belle of Louisville has been known to cheat by turning around mid-way in the race. Another time she got a helpful boost from a tugboat but since is so old, she is excused by reason of her advanced age.

The Belle is recognized as the oldest river steamboat in operation, being placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989. Although the boat race may be rigged, "cheating" is impossible since the race has no rules. After all, it's all in good fun. Unlike the Derby, there are no huge prizes at stake. The only prizes are bragging rights and a pair of gilded deer antlers the winning boat may mount above her forecastle.

For those of us who can't afford expensive parties and the $5,000 plus price tag of a seat in Millionaire's Row, there is the infield for about $75. It's a spectator area inside the track with not much chance of seeing the race but it's a great party spot. And who knows, you might get a glimpse of Donald Trump or Illeana Douglas or even royalty.

A museum display of the Derby winner

Incorporated in 1937, Churc-hill Downs was named for Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr.'s relatives, John and Henry Churchill, who do-nated the land for the race-track. (Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr was the grandson of William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.) Underneath the twin Spires of Churchill Downs you will find a wonderful Derby Museum where you can be-come very knowledgeable about all things Derby.

The race is also called "The run for the roses" because the winner of the Derby is presented with a blanket of 554 red roses. Of course, the winner is also presented with a check for over one million dollars. That's pretty rosy too.

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