We spent a day at the races - and didn't lose our shirts

Emmitt B. Feldner  for The Review

While the Louisville Slugger museum and factory was my must-see on our vacation trip to Louisville, for Terry it was Churchill Downs.

Of course, the Bourbon Trail was mustsee for both of us, but we also included two days in Louisville wrapped around the trail and set aside the last day for the home of the Kentucky Derby.

That’s always been probably Terry’s favorite sporting event, her can’t-miss television every year.

So with a trip to Kentucky it was a given that one day would be devoted to Churchill Downs.

Of course, we were three weeks too late for the Derby, but it was the day after our anniversary the day we visited, so we had our own celebration.

Actually, it was probably a better time for a first visit, since we didn’t have to deal with the crowds or the madness – not to mention the high motel and restaurant prices – of Derby Week.

And the spring racing season was still in full swing, so we got to actually see – and bet on – real thoroughbred horse racing.

I’m happy to report that we actually made money betting on the horses – a whole $2.80 between the two of us.

All right, that wasn’t enough to pay for Terry’s Mint Julep at lunch – and yes, she had a Mint Julep with her lunch at the Derby Cafe which came in a souvenir glass that listed all the winners of the Derby – but it was still a positive number.

We only stayed for three races, as we had to drive to central Ohio that evening to finish our trip with a visit to Terry’s cousin, but we still got in a full day at the races.

It started with a visit to the Kentucky Derby museum, which included a backside tour of the Downs and the racetrack tour.

All in all, you got to see everything you’d ever want to see and more about Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby – which for Terry probably still wasn’t enough.

The backside tour took us on a bus through the entire city that lies behind the backstretch at Churchill Downs – the stables; the dormitories for jockeys, trainers and their families; their dining hall and much, much more.

It’s such a big complex that the people who live and work there ride bicycles to get around – they’d ride the horses, but those are too expensive and would cost a lot more to replace than a bicycle.

With the first tour out of the way, we made our way through the museum – which could take most a day in and of itself.

Among other things, they had simulated races with simulated betting, to get you in the mood for the real thing later on in the day – since, like most gambling establishments, that is how they make the bulk of their money.

They also had television screens where you could watch replays of any Kentucky Derby that’s been either on television or on film, which also could have taken up the entire day – and almost did for Terry.

Naturally, the most popular choice of all was Secretariat in 1973 winning the first jewel of his Triple Crown – which we both had watched live on TV when it first happened and relived.

The racetrack tour took us through the track area, including a visit to the winner’s circle and right up to the railing along the track – a lot closer than we’d ever be able to get on Derby Day.

We also got to meet a previous Kentucky Derby winner face-to-face on our tour – the 2009 champion, Mine That Bird, is still stabled at Churchill Downs and was grazing outside her stall when our tour went by, so naturally everyone got their picture taken with a Derby winner – something you can’t do on Derby Day.

We did hear a lot of interesting stories about the madness that is Derby Day and Derby Week from our guide, who was both knowledgable and enthusiastic.

For instance, there is apparently a big car show in the infield every fall and more than a few people come to that event to get into the infield and bury bottles there to be dug up the next May, when carry-ins aren’t allowed.

At least, that’s the story our guide told us, and we believed him – although unfortunately, we couldn’t go out in the infield and try to dig up any forgotten or lost bottles.

We had lunch at the Derby Cafe and, along with Terry’s Mint Julep, we both tried the traditional local favorite – Kentucky Hot Brown.

When we travel, we like to sample the local cuisine and once again, we weren’t disappointed.

By then, it was post time so we headed out to the racetrack – making sure to stop at the betting window on the way.

Since it was a weekday there was only a small crowd and for our $2 admission – like I said, on most days the track makes their money on people betting on the races rather than just attending them – we stood right by the railing just before the finish line.

We missed getting a bet down on the first race, which was won by a horse named Lake Michigan – which, given where we live, we should have bet on.

In the second race, I put an across-theboard bet on Mary Magdalene.

All right, maybe I was looking for divine intervention, but she did win and I made a whole $4.40 on my bet while Terry lost $2 on the horse she bet on.

For the next race, she went across-theboard on one of the favorites, Forbidden, and I went across-the-board on the long shot – Podarok, who was in his first race and went off at 53-1.

This time, she was the winner, to the tune of $12.40, which meant that we had won a total of $22.80 on $20 worth of bets.

My horse, Podarok, was running dead last until the last turn, when he finally figured out what he was there for and started running, finishing fourth.

If it had been a mile-and-a-half race instead of a mile race, we might have won enough to pay for lunch, not just for admission.

As it was, we thanked Forbidden in person, since we were standing right next to the winner’s circle, and took off for Ohio with our huge winnings.

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