Straight from the Horse’s Mouth – Kentucky, USA

Kentucky and the city of
Louisville are to
horses what North Carolina
is to NASCAR. I got a chance to see some
of the inner workings of Churchill Downs
while meeting some famous world class athletic celebrities of the
four-footed kind.

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“Only horses don’t have grandmothers
like we do.”

“Oh don’t they just!”

–From
the 1967 Australian novel Picnic at
Hanging Rock

Stallions live in splendid accommodations!

Stallions live in splendid accommodations

And
boy does it matter too, about the grandmothers of the horses! Many people think the stallions  make or break whether a potential horse will be a champion racer. But in order for a filly to be able to even
have the chance to breed with one of the high quality stallions, she has to
have come from quality lines. I learned this from my visit to the 2,000-acre
complex of Three Chimneys Horse Farm, little over an hour’s drive from downtown Louisville in settings that can truly be
described as picturesque and pastoral.
This farm is home to numerous champions, including Kentucky Derby and
Breeders’ Cup winners.

The
philosophy of ownership is that the fans really count in the sport of horse
racing so they’ve made the place accessible to them. Travelers are more than welcome to call to
arrange a free tour of the facilities as well as meet, greet and pose with
some champion race horses, like 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Smarty
Jones and Dynaformer (father of deceased Kentucky Derby winner and fan favorite
Barbaro).

Dynaformer’s offspring has
won more than 75 million dollars from racing.
The Queen of England,
movie stars and politicians have visited this horse farm, but hey, even
commoners can partake in something that the rich and famous have seen. I was told by our tour guide
Jen, that most horse farms aren’t really accessible to the public. Three Chimneys does its best to
implement “green”, eco-friendly practices wherever possible in its
operations.

Accessible Celebrities

Smarty Jones came up to his stable door. How I
wanted to pet him, but I was told that he has a tendency to bite, so I couldn’t. He was let out by one of the staff for me to pose with him, though for legal reasons involving the horses’ images,
visitors can only show their photos offline
to others.

I saw where the horses are allowed to run around. The stallions were alone in each of their
paddocks because of their aggressive nature, including Sky Mesa, who saw us
from afar and came up to the fence wanting to be petted, longing for some
affection! But again, I was told by Jen
not to. It seems that Sky Mesa likes to
put on an act, and may bite your arm once you let your guard down!

In case you’re wondering how much the stud fee is for Smarty Jones, $100,000. For Dynaformer, $150,000. The breeding is controlled and videotaped. The stallions can only breed at most 110
times during the breeding season because the ownership doesn’t want the market
over-saturated. Breeding season takes
place from February through mid-June, not every filly can breed just
because money is offered. Three
Chimney’s Pedigree Specialist screens out many potential mates.

Captivated by History and Tradition

Horses training on the legendary Churchill Downs race track.

Horses training on the legendary Churchill Downs
race track.

The Kentucky Derby is the longest consecutive running sporting event in America. Since 1875, 134 of the annual horse races
have been run at Churchill Downs. Seeing
it on TV didn’t prepare me for the draw it would have on me
while visiting. I stayed there four
hours, and could’ve spent a couple more easily; I took three tours and
visited the Kentucky Derby Museum – one of the few places in the world
that I felt glued to (even though the Kentucky Derby was about seven months
away) because of the ambience, the tradition, and incredible history that makes
up the 160 acre complex. I am not
usually a fan of guided tours, but I found their guides to be quite engaging.

I arrived early one autumn morning for the hour long Barn and Backside tour, which offers visitors the chance to see the
race horses train on the fabled track from the opposite side of the grandstands
near the stables, which house more than 1,400 race horses as well as dorms for
the employees. This guided tour provides some history and many interesting facts about the Kentucky Derby and Churchill Downs. In 1937, it only cost 50 cents to watch the
race in the infield, today, to hang out there, puts you
back $40.00, even though your chances of seeing any of the race are virtually
nil. Each year, 100,000 people converge
there to hang out and say they were a part of history.

Next,
I took the 30-minute Historic Walking Tour
(included with the museum admission price), which allowed guests to go
into the main grandstand and take photos of the winner’s circle across the
track.

I
was about to go into the museum when I heard that a 90-minute Behind The Scenes Tour was about to begin. I felt led to take it, and I’m glad I
did! I saw such places as the
clubhouse and locker room for the male jockeys, as well as learning how
these athletes must all be the same weight for the Kentucky Derby (126 pounds,
but 121 if they ride a filly). It’s done
by adding extra padding until the weight is reached. I found out that jockeys wear several
pairs of goggles around their eyes, so if one pair gets wet or soiled, they can
de-layer for a clean one. We went to the press area, Millionaires’ Row seating, and the track announcer’s booth. Believe me, these 90 minutes went by too fast!

One can easily spend many hours in the Kentucky Derby Museum admiring and learning about horse
racing from the two floors of exhibits, including film footage of most of the
past Kentucky Derbies. I watched the 1977
Kentucky Derby in the “Time Machine” exhibit.
That particular race was the first one I remember watching as a kid, viewing my favorite race horse of all time, Seattle Slew, overcome a bad start, and then go on to win the Triple Crown, the second to last horse to do
so.

An exhibit at the Kentucky Derby Museum.

An exhibit at the Kentucky Derby Museum.

The “Winner’s Stable” interactive exhibit shows that  Seattle Slew was bought for a
mere $17,500. You can pick up a phone receiver to
hear commentary on him, as well as other great Derby champions who have their
own sections.

One
exhibit not to miss is the 360-degree theatre presentation called “The
Greatest Race” (viewers constantly are turning around in the theater). It
highlights the last Kentucky Derby run and goes behind the scenes of
Derby Day.

Horse-Themed Bourbon Experience

After a day of admiring racing horses, a
great place to relax for a drink is the Old
Seelbach Bar

in downtown Louisville. The bar has many pictures of race
horses hanging on its early 1900’s restored walls, including some Kentucky
Derby winners. Did you know that F. Scott Fitzgerald sipped
bourbon here? The hotel was a
setting for his novel The Great Gatsby (Penguin Popular Classics),
a place where the fictional hometown girl Daisy Buchanan may have actually
gotten drunk because of her forthcoming sham wedding to Tom Buchanan.

Roy A Barnes toasts Bootsnall readers

Roy A Barnes toasts BootsnAll readers

We had fast and friendly service
one late Sunday afternoon in a rather dark setting with few people surrounding
us. One of my friends commented on how
she liked dark settings for bars. I was drinking a bourbon cocktail
called an Old Fashioned that was made with Maker’s Mark bourbon, a cherry and
some slices of oranges. I was told by
the bartender that the Old Fashioned was invented in Louisville.

The bartender gladly gave me extra syrup
so my drink was rather fiery in scent and strong in taste, but sweet
too. I even sampled one of their house
specials, a drink that went down smoothly and had a distinctly fruity taste,
for it contained Old Forrester Bourbon, triple sec, Angostura and Reychaud
Bitters, plus some Korbel Champagne.

Read Roy’s other Bootsnall articles here.

Roy A. Barnes writes from southeastern Wyoming and is a

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