Kentucky knows how to show off. That’s a good thing. We went to the 134th annual Kentucky Derby this weekend, and we started on Friday, the day before the race, with a tour of Calumet, probably the most legendary horse farm in the world. And despite the tragic ending for Eight Belles, the Kentucky Derby remains an icon of the South, rich with history and pride.
Farm manager Bill Witman (above) gave us a tour of the stables. Bill seems exactly as you might expect a horse farm manager to be: plain-spoken, gracious, wearing a cowboy hat, and a well-starched shirt. The stables at Calumet are as clean and well-lit as some people’s houses. Calumet doesn’t offer tours anymore, but if you’re in the area, at least drive by it.
On race day, we took the Governor’s Train from Frankfort to Louisville. The Governor’s Train is a collection of historic train cars that are used just for this event. A full breakfast menu (followed by dinner after the race) and live music made the trip something to remember.
About the only thing that could top all of this is the Derby itself. After an incredibly rainy Friday, Saturday afternoon arrived with blue skies. Our view from the 6th Floor Terrace at Churchill Downs was spectacular.
The Derby is a celeb-fest: Michael Jordan’s box was below ours and we saw him there, smoking a cigar in a natty linen suit. Different folks in our group also spotted Smokey Robinson, Terrell Owens, Nick Lachey, and–depending how liberally you want to define "celeb"–Joe Piscopo. After the train ride back that featured a disco room and a great old-time band, we arrived back in Frankfort around midnight.
While our trip wasn’t quite the typical one, I’ve decided one thing: Anyone who loves the South needs to go to the Derby once. Whether you’re in the infield with the tank-tops crowd, or in a box with ladies wearing hats that could shade a small family, you owe it to yourself to taste a mint julep, to see the majestic track at Churchill Downs, and to join 150,000 of your closest friends in singing "My Old Kentucky Home" as the horses make their entrance. For that moment, wherever you live, you’ll wish Kentucky were your home.