You can’t visit Kentucky without stopping in Louisville. Kentucky’s largest city, Louisville is known for being the “Gateway to the South” but it’s also famous for being home to the Kentucky Derby. Celebrating the race known as the “most exciting two minutes in sports.” is one of the premiere attractions in the Louisville region—the Kentucky Derby Museum. This museum showcases the history and pageantry of the most important horse race in the world.
Fun Fact: The Kentucky Derby is a great economic event for Kentucky, with around $160 million spent in Louisville Derby weekend.
Located at Gate 1 of Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Derby Museum pays homage to the tradition, history, hospitality and pride of the world-renown event that is the Kentucky Derby. Every day is Derby Day at this museum.
Fun Fact: The Kentucky Derby horse race has been run at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky on the first Saturday of May every year since 1875
Inside the museum, the permanent exhibits are interesting and well designed, with opportunities for interactive experiences including riding a horse in a race, betting on a race, watching it and seeing your payoff, and listening to interviews with jockeys, owners, and trainers. You can even sit on a saddle in a real starting gate, step inside a soundproof booth and attempt to call a race, and watch footage of Derby races from as early as 1918. You will learn about the life of a thoroughbred, from breeding through birth and, eventually, on to the track.
I loved the 360-degree, high-definition, multimedia documentary about the Derby, thundering hooves and all, called “The Greatest Race.” (It’s updated each June to show the latest Derby.) It is phenomenal! You really feel the excitement of the Derby and what it means for the horses, trainers, owners and spectators. My favorite exhibit was on the over-the-top hats favored by the wealthy women of millionaire’s row. But I was also surprised by the unexpected athleticism of the jockey. At The Riders Up exhibit, you can mount a simulated horse and try to maintain a jockey’s stance for two minutes (the time it takes jockeys to run the mile-long track). It’s not as easy as it looks! The museum also has the different jockey silks from past races.
Fun Fact: Churchill Downs Racetrack currently guarantees a purse of $2 million, with the winner receiving at least $1.24 million.
Admission to the museum includes a 30 minute guided historic tour of Churchill Downs (including the barn, where you’ll see a few retired racehorses.) Come early if you want to see the horses exercising. The museum also has a gift shop and a café.
Fun Fact: The Thoroughbred industry in Kentucky is one of the leading economic industries in the state, generating $3.1 billion in revenue.
The Run for the Roses may take place on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs, but it’s Derby Day every day at the Kentucky Derby Museum.