Home to the most exciting two minutes in sports (aka the Kentucky Derby), experience a day at Churchill Downs and its high stakes horse races during the Spring and Fall Meets (late April through July 1, and late October through Thanksgiving weekend). Here’s a thorough(bred) guide to a day at Churchill Downs.
Before heading to the track, saddle up to the counter at Wagner’s Pharmacy, a Louisville legend with Derby décor adorning the walls and Zagat-worthy omelets. The first race doesn’t usually run until 12:40 p.m., which gives you plenty of time to explore the Derby Museum and take one of their exclusive tours of the track. Museum admission includes a 30-minute Historic Walking Tour of Churchill Downs. Don’t miss “The Greatest Race” film on their 360-degree screen. The sound of the horses galloping will make your heart race right along with the horses. The Barn and Backside Tour takes you behind the scenes through the stalls on the back of the track and other areas closed to the general public.
A visit to Churchill Downs is a win on any budget; a day at the races dazzles for as little as three dollars for general admission, or up the ante with a box or suite. For those taking the General Admission route should be prepared to stand on busy days, as this price doesn’t guarantee a seat. Premium seat sections have a dress code, so make sure you’re wearing appropriate attire (hat please). Gates open at 11:30, which gives you time to peruse the program and make your wagers before the first race. Everyone has their method for betting, based on factors as logical as stats and as silly as the color of the jockeys’ silks. Be sure to visit the historic Paddock before post time, where you can see the horses and their owners prepping for the race. A lot of people won’t place their bets until they’ve seen the horses strut their stuff in the paddock. Extra special days to do the Downs, other than the obvious Oaks and Derby, include Thanksgiving and Downs after Dark.
On Fridays in May, enjoy live music late afternoon and into the evening with the Paddock Concert Series, featuring national acts such as Keller Williams and Citizen Cope. No visit to Churchill Downs would be complete without a mint julep. The Kentucky Derby’s signature cocktail is served in collectible glasses, the ultimate souvenir from your day at the races. Now place your bets, people.