Ever since I was in high school, I had always wanted to visit Churchill Downs! Coincidentally, on the same token, I had wanted to visit Kentucky since I was in elementary school singing the lyrics “I’m going to Kentucky and I’m going to the fair” on repeat on the playground. SO, when my Mom and I made it to Louisville, Kentucky where I visited her to explore the city after her conference there, we both KNEW that we had to go to Churchill Downs! While I had expected a very formal showy showy tour of Churchill Downs, my Mom who booked the tickets opted for the stables tour, where we got the more authentic tour of Churchill Downs and truly got a unique perspective of the place and the people who work countless hours to make it happen.
Churchill Downs is apart of the Kentucky Derby Museum – the place that plays homage to the historic significance of the Kentucky Derby and horse races at Churchill Downs. Along with our Barn and Backside Tour tickets, we got museum admission – all for $45/person. Click the link to book your ticket, too: https://www.derbymuseum.org/plan-a-visit/tours/winter-season-barn-and-backside-tour
My Mom and I are ALWAYS big fans of learning about the unique cultural aspects of different places AND the Churchill Downs Barn and Backside Tour (we did the Winter season one since we went in early March). Our tour guide was a staffer at Churchill Downs who works in the stables herself with the horses. On the tour, we learned that many of those who work at Churchill Downs live at the stables, to be close to and tend to the horses before and during racing season. We saw the stables where winning horses have lived during their time at Churchill Downs (there are plaques to honor each Kentucky Derby winning horse at their stable!!), including the stall that Secretariat called home! We also saw some of the apartments, dormitory-style homes, church, and academic building that the community of Churchill Downs staff live and work at. One of my favorite things learned on the tour is that all employees get access in the academic building to free certifications, United States citizenship assessments/test prep, and tutoring for their kids. The employees go to church on Monday (I think!) to mesh well with their work schedule at the stables. Mom and I both learned SO much and truly got an authentic taste into the life and culture on the Backside of Churchill Downs.
Our tour guide, being a Churchill Downs staffer, provided my group and I with a unique lens into life at Churchill Downs. Our tour guide grew up with parents working at Churchill Downs before she, herself, decided to follow in their footsteps. She is super passionate about the work that she does, despite the long and countless and sleepless hours that she has put into make iconic horse races like the Kentucky Derby and MANY others during horse race season at Churchill Downs and it truly showed. On top of horse race season, our tour guide ALSO does tours to show the place that she loves and calls her home. What our tour guide gave me and Mom and the rest of our group was the weight of how much work is put into making horse races like the Kentucky Derby and many others happen every year. There are SO many people who put in countless hours doing the “less glamorous” work to make horse races appear as magical as they look. It’s much more than just wealthy people putting down their money on which of their horses will win the race – it is passion, a love for horses, and countless hours of hard work. I hope more people can see and learn this, too.
Along with a touring the stables at the Backside of Churchill Downs, Mom and I also got to see the horse racing tracks which was SO cool (!!!) and check out the Kentucky Derby Museum that we had admission included for. The Kentucky Derby Museum had some beautiful horse portraits and stories on the history of the Kentucky Derby. My favorite part of the Kentucky Derby Museum was watching the film “The Greatest Race” – which is 18 minutes full of being at the center of the epic Kentucky Derby. You see ALL the hard work that goes into making the Kentucky Derby happen and the emotions that go into it all. Having done the Backside Barn and Stables tour beforehand, I loved the tribute that this film gave to the people who worked in the backside stables and all the work that they put in year after year into making this event occur.
I am SO glad that I was able to go to Kentucky and see where the Kentucky Derby happened at Churchill Downs! My Mom and I had both always wanted to go and it was such a special time with so many unique perspectives learned.
XOXO – Katie <3