Louisville, Kentucky – History, Excitement, and Charm
Fun for the whole family
By Arvin Steinberg
Ask any jockey in the U.S. what one race he or she
would most want to win. I am confident the answer would be – the Kentucky
Derby! So famous is this race that it is often referred to as “the greatest
two minutes in sports”. It is the first leg of the Triple Crown of
thoroughbred horse racing.
Downs racetrack located in Louisville, Kentucky is the home of the Kentucky
Derby. It is America’s most historic and famous thoroughbred racetrack.
Established in 1874, it is the oldest continuously operated racetrack in the
U.S. The first Kentucky Derby was held in May 1875 and has been run every
year since on the first Saturday in May.
I’ve been to several Kentucky Derbies. It’s great just
to be at this historic racetrack. The Twin Spires atop the grandstand have
become one of the most recognized structures in all of sports. And, there is
not a more moving experience in the world of sports than the playing of “My
Old Kentucky Home” as the horses step onto the track for the Kentucky Derby.
have also enjoyed many days of racing at Churchill Downs not only on Derby
day but also during the spring and fall meets. But recently I visited
Churchill Downs during a week when there was no racing at all. I went there
for a wedding. My nephew was marrying a girl from New Albany, Indiana, a
city just across the bridge from Louisville. And the couple decided to have
their wedding at Churchill Downs.
A wedding at a racetrack? Of course! Churchill Downs is
undergoing a $121 million renovation and expansion. The famed Twin Spires
will stay intact, but virtually every other part of the grandstand and
clubhouse is being replaced or extensively renovated. 64 luxury suites and
meeting rooms have been added. The clubhouse is undergoing a comprehensive
area where the wedding was held was the beautiful new Jockey Suites. You
could even look out at the track, and on the giant screen where a race is
simulcast were the words “Congratulations Jeff and Julie.” As the bride and
groom stood under the lovely chuppah adorned with flowers, I noticed a
couple of silver horse shoes among the floral arrangement. Following the
ceremony and a brief period of celebrating with hors d’oeuvres and drinks, a
track bugler dressed in his red attire and boots, sounded the usual notes
played when the horses enter the track, to announce that dinner was served.
next morning guests of the bride and groom were invited to breakfast at the
track. It was a lot of fun to have breakfast on the backstretch where
exercise riders and other track employees eat. We then watched early morning
training, as thoroughbred horses sprinted around this famous track.
Later, I visited the Kentucky Derby Museum located at
Gate 1 of Churchill Downs. It is the only museum in the world dedicated to a
single horse race. It offers two floors of exciting exhibits giving visitors
an in-depth look at thoroughbred racing and the Kentucky Derby.
one exhibit I climbed aboard a horse-like structure and rode a simulated
race while watching a video in front of me. I was required to stand in the
irons and crouch as a jockey would do throughout the two-minute race, but
not sit down in the saddle. It looked easy, but my legs were aching before
the race was half over. My horse came in fifth, but it was fun.
One exhibit alone “The Greatest Race” is worth the
visit to the Kentucky Derby Museum. It is theater in the round. You are
seated in the center of a huge room and at times you have to stand and turn
all the way around to see everything in this behind-the-scenes look at the
Derby and the excitement of the actual race. The color and the action are
unbelievable. This exhibit employs high-definition video technology to make
the Derby come alive. It is the first 360-degreee high-definition
presentation in the world and is updated every June to capture the most
recent Kentucky Derby experience.
addition to the permanent exhibits, visitors can take a guided walking tour
of Churchill Downs.
Just as Churchill Downs is renowned for what it has
meant for horse racing, there is another enterprise in Louisville that is
renowned for what it has meant for the game of baseball. Since 1884
Hillerich & Bradsby Co. has made the world-famous Louisville Slugger
baseball bat. It is the official bat of Major League Baseball. In 1996 the
company opened the Louisville Slugger Museum in downtown Louisville.
is a fascinating museum for the entire family. As I explained above, I was
in Louisville to attend my nephew’s wedding. My two small grandsons, ages
four and two, were also in Louisville to attend the wedding. I took them
with me to the Louisville Slugger Museum, and it was a wonderful experience
for them as well as for me.
When you get within a couple of blocks of the museum,
you can see the world’s largest baseball bat rising 120 feet in front of the
museum. This enormous baseball bat is an exact replica of the model R43
34-inch wood bat designed to specifications by Babe Ruth in the early
soon as you enter the museum you detect a definite ballpark flavor. First
you are directed into the theater to enjoy an inspirational film on the
excitement of the game of baseball. You then walk through an underground
locker room into a full-size dugout and step onto the museum’s playing
field. Next, you can stroll through the museum’s galleries featuring rare
in-house collections of , artifacts, and interactive displays.
At one exhibit I was able to select a famous major
league pitcher that I wanted to bat against, and then experience what his
90-mph fastball looked like as it whizzed past me into the catcher’s mitt.
My grandchildren loved climbing through a giant ball and glove made of 450
million-year old prehistoric limestone.
Finally, you are taken on a narrated walking tour
through the Louisville Slugger manufacturing facility and watch Major League
bats being made. Before leaving the museum, every visitor is given a
souvenir bat to take home.
a half block away from the Louisville Slugger Museum on the opposite side of
the street, is the Louisville Science Center. Here there are many permanent
and temporary exhibits, labs, demonstrations, and an IMAX theater, all fun
yet educational activities for learning more about the world of science.
The Louisville Science Center is structured on three
floors. The first floor is devoted mainly to younger children seven years
and under. There is a KidZone that my grandchildren loved. They were also
intrigued by the temporary exhibit, Backyard Monsters, featuring oversized
On the second floor a permanent exhibit, The World We
Create, celebrates the creative thinking that makes scientific advancements
possible. Here you can enter the challenging world of manufacturing,
transportation, chemistry, architecture, physics, and engineering. You can
design your own bicycle and experiment in the Inventor’s Garage.
On the third floor a permanent exhibit, The World
Within Us, allows you to learn about “the incredible body that’s yours for
life” by explaining human anatomy, physiology, health awareness, nutrition,
and lifestyle behaviors.
Louisville Science Center is wonderful for families. Every young person
could spend endless interesting hours learning more about the world of
Louisville is a city of important history as well as
charm. The Seelbach Hilton hotel in downtown Louisville, where I stayed,
exemplifies as lot of that history and charm. The hotel opened in 1905 and
has been a premier, luxury hotel ever since and appears on the National
Register of Historic Places.
Here I was amidst turn-of-the-century artwork,
antiques, and four poster beds, as well as state-of-the-art technology
including high speed Internet access in all guest rooms and meeting rooms.
The grand ambiance of this hotel, that was beautifully renovated in 2000,
inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald to use the Seelbach Hilton Louisville hotel as
the backdrop for Tom and Daisy Buchanan’s wedding in “The Great Gatsby”.
is Louisville’s only Four-Star and Four-Diamond hotel. It is only three
blocks from the Kentucky International Convention Center and within walking
distance of the River Front and arts district. A trolley stops right outside
the hotel and circles the downtown area stopping at attractions. The hotel
offers complimentary guest airport transportation.
The hotel also features Kentucky’s first and only
Five-Diamond Restaurant, The Oakroom. My dinner in this elegant restaurant
with its rich, hand-carved dark oak and brass chandelier interior was
fabulous. There is also a separate dining area in the restaurant where
legend has it Al Capone used to dine and where he had a hidden door through
which he could exit if the police entered the hotel. I don’t know if there
is any truth to this legend, but I can easily understand why nine U.S.
presidents and figures like Al Capone stayed at this grand hotel and enjoyed
dining at The Oakroom.
For more information:
Greater Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau,
1-888- LOUISVILLE (1-888-568-4784) toll-free, visitor information