A Day at the Races

Saturday, June 23, 2012 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Travelin' with Steven, Day 4:  Louisville, KY to Indianapolis, IN

Last night as we were making plans for today, we noticed that the famous Churchill Downs thoroughbred racetrack had some races scheduled for today.  Since none of us had ever been to a horse race before, we thought it might be fun to try it.

The races didn't begin until 12:45, so we checked out a couple of drive-by lettterboxes before heading over to the twin spires.  Opened in 1875, Churchill Downs is most famous as home of the annual Kentucky Derby.  Held on the first Saturday in May since that opening year, the race caps a two-week festival and attracts the rich and famous who usually appear in fine attire.  At other times of the year, the track hosts other thoroughbred races, and the dress code is significantly relaxed, a relief for us since we left our big floppy hats, frilly dresses, and seersucker suits at home.

When we arrived at the track, the sparsely populated parking lot suggested that today might be a slow day in terms of attendance.  As soon as we paid our $3.00 fee and parked, an attendant in a golf cart picked us up to deliver us to the gate.  We usually decline such offers but for some reason, we accepted—and we were glad we did.  He kindly gave us two $10 admission passes.  Because Steven is under 12 years old, he was admitted free.  After we ponied up $2.00 for a copy of the official racing program, we had invested a total of five dollars for our day at the races.  Not bad!

Picking the ponies
With Ken's limited knowledge of horse racing from TV, we were able to figure out the program and each of us picked our choices to win, place and show in each race.  Steven and Ken perused the odds and history of the horses provided in the program to make their choices, while I gave more weight to great names.  (Even with 20-1 odds, how could a horse named Luckie Chuckie lose?)  Steven was a little disappointed to learn that we would not be placing bets on our choices at the windows, but we all put one dollar in a pool with the agreement that the one among us with the most horses placing would take the pot.

We made our plans to stay for the first three races and then move on up the road toward Indianapolis.  After finding our seats in the grandstands, which were virtually empty, we wondered whether we'd hear the traditional bugle call to the post or whether it might be played only at the Kentucky Derby.  Sure enough, about eight minutes before the first race was to begin, we heard that familiar sound, just as Steven was talking about it.  The timing was uncanny, and it maybe should have tipped us off to his trackside savvy.


In the first race, both Ken and Steven picked all three horses correctly, in the order of their finish!  (Too bad we hadn't really bet on them.)  I had two of the winning horses, but despite his cute name, Bling Boy, my third choice, came in near the back of the pack.  We had just enough time for lunch from the food court before the second race began.  In that race and the third, Steven had two correct picks, while Ken and I had one each.

Ken and Steven's choice Stay Sees Mom about to win
Three races down, and we were all having so much fun, we decided to stay for a few more.  Finally in race number 4, my strategy paid off when American Kitty (such a cute name!) came in first, just as I had predicted.  At the end of four races, our scores (number of correct guesses) were:  Steven, 9; Ken, 5, and Dianne, 6.

Churchill Downs paddock
After the fourth race, we went down to the paddock area where the horses are brought before their race.  Here they're saddled and mounted to be led to the track.  Serious gamblers could be overheard commenting about which horse had lost weight, which jockey looked a little tired, and other concerns before they ran off to the window to make their final bets before the race began.

Jockey Miguel Mena on Sweet Jody
It was at the paddock where, with a closer look, we really appreciated how small in stature the jockeys are.  Each of the races had a weight limit for what the horse could carry, varying today from 116 to 125 pounds, including jockey and equipment.  What skill they must have to control a 1,200 pound horse moving at 40 miles an hour!

Champion odds reader
Since the attendance was so light, we were able to move around to different parts of the stands and watch the races from a variety of perspectives, including at the track fence near the finish line.  By the time we finally left, our three races had stretched into seven.  Steven's pony-picking acumen paid off and he won our little betting pool with 13 of the top 21 horses.  Ken was second with 9, and I barely placed with 7.

Franklin and his wife
Before leaving we had an opportunity to chat with Franklin, a former jockey and trainer.  After he told us of some of the injuries he experienced during his career (broken neck, back, legs, arms, and even eye socket—not all at the same time), his wife of 38 years expressed how happy she was when he retired.  They both work for the track now in much less hazardous roles.

Not knowing what to expect when we arrived, we were all a little surprised at how much fun we had in our day at the races.  Heading north on our old friend I-65, we stopped for the night at Columbus, Indiana, ready to spring into Indianapolis tomorrow.

In our planning session last night, we checked out the top attractions in Indianapolis.  We had been thinking about a tour of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but when Steven saw that Indy has the world's largest kid's museum, widely ranked as the best in the U.S., he asked if that might not be a good choice.  Well, why not?  Dinosphere, here we come!

More Photos from Churchill Downs

Steven & Jockey Marcelino Pedroza Jr (riding Miss Ziggy on the far left in the photo above of Stay Sees Mom)
Race 3:  #6 Cheery (my pick) tries to catch up with Steven's winner Toxis (out of photo)
Loving the relaxed dress code
Race 7:  Indian Icicle (red number 1) makes a move on #12 Greed and Fear to win
Race 7:  the rest of the pack
Corey Lanerie rides Stay Sees Mom to the winner's circle