We happened to be in Louisville the first weekend of May, which is always the weekend of the Kentucky Derby. Tickets to the famed Saturday race range from $80 general admission (standing room only, and for people my height, with views only of other people’s armpits) to $15,000, which I assume provide some pretty awesome views of the horse races.
An Insider’s Tip: Do Thurby, Not Derby
We weren’t going to go. But then we discovered the option of Thurby. This locals’ favorite event takes place on Thursday, just ahead of the onslaught of revelers who descend upon Churchill Downs for Derby. Tickets for Thurby are a mere $20 at the gate and include all of the trappings of the real thing, including thoroughbred horse races, mint juleps, live music, and most important, big fancy hats. The hats alone are worth the price of admission. Oh, and free shuttle transportation is included, so there’s no parking hassle.
On the recommendation of locals, we didn’t bother buying advance tickets or reserved seats for Thurby. There’s plenty of space to wander around and plenty of places to sit, and the general admission tickets (which also happen to be the cheapest option) were perfect for our needs.
A Day At Thurby
Thurby was the ideal way for us to experience the excitement and color of the Kentucky Derby without the crowds. We indulged in mint juleps, watched the races, made pretend bets, lost every race, and had a blast people watching.
In the paddock, we had close up views of the horses and enjoyed seeing the jockeys marching in to mount their horses before being led to the track. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement when you’re right there in the midst of it all.
Bourbon and Brandy in Louisville
Kentucky, of course, is known for bourbon. Many of the distilleries on the Bourbon Trail are miles away from Louisville, farther than we wanted to drive. We visited a couple of distilleries in town and are saving others for another trip where we’ll base ourselves in Lexington.
We thoroughly enjoyed both tours and learned a lot in the process. I now understand the difference between bourbon and whiskey—all bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. Bourbon has a set of special regulations, including that it must be at least 51 percent corn; it must be aged in new white oak charred barrels; it must be free of colorings, flavorings, and additives; and it must be made in the U.S.
We loved the smooth taste of Angel’s Envy bourbon and were inspired to buy a bottle. We also bought a bottle of Copper & Kings special reserve brandy, which we broke out to share with friends a couple of months later. The first sip just about set our hair on fire. I don’t know what happened—seriously, it didn’t seem that strong when we did the tasting.
Our visit to Copper & Kings was fun and interesting. They’re committed to sustainable practices, including solar power and recycling, and they age their brandy to the tunes of rock and classical music that agitates the spirits (of the alcohol).
Where We Stayed
We camped at Charlestown State Park in Indiana, just across the Ohio River from Louisville. It’s about 20 miles from Louisville and offered a beautiful, peaceful home base for our horse racing and bourbon-tasting adventures.
The sites are spacious, with electric only or full-hookups, good Verizon, clean bathhouses, and miles of hiking and biking trails.