May 2006 Issue
Kentucky's Unbridled Spirit
Take a thorough(bred) journey into Bluegrass Country.
If you're driving through Kentucky, odds are you'll encounter race horses. Thousands of 'em, in fact, since there are more than 450 working horse farms in the Bluegrass region.
The most notable is certainly Calumet Farm in Lexington, which regrettably is no longer open to the public for tours. Still, any number of tour operators will drive you by Calumet, the famed stable that produced such racing greats as Alydar, Citation, Forward Pass and Whirlaway (for a total of two Triple Crown, eight Kentucky Derby and seven Preakness winners). Those tour bus firms include Blue Grass Tours (859/252-5744), Horse Farm Tours (859/268-2906), Thoroughbred Heritage Tours (859/846-9652) and the Kentucky Horse Park's Unique Horse Farm Tours (859/233-4303).
All this said, you can certainly hop aboard your steed (or into your Mustang) and take your own driving tour through the Bluegrass, a 1,600-square-mile chunk of farmland in the north-central region of the state. "It's a ... place where you can go back in time," says Courtney Mangeot, public relations manager for the Kentucky Derby Museum and Churchill Downs in Louisville. In the Bluegrass, "you get to see the horses on the farms in their natural settings and then go see them on the racetracks." Some sights of interest include:
American Saddlebred Museum
The American Saddlebred Museum, located on the grounds of the Kentucky Horse Park (see next page) is devoted to telling the story of the breed in this country's past, present and future. Through a collection of fine art, photography and memorabilia, the facility educates visitors "about the beauty, versatility and history of the American saddlebred." The museum boasts the most extensive collection of Saddlebred artifacts in the world, as well as the largest gathering of equine paintings by George Ford Morris on the planet. There's also a genealogical library for researching four-legged bloodlines. 4089 Iron Works Pkwy., Lexington, Kentucky, 859/233-4303, www.americansaddlebredmuseum.org. Open Memorial Day to Labor Day, Mon.-Sun. 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; open September-October and April-May, Mon.-Sun. 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; winter hours are Wed.-Sun. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission (which includes the entire Kentucky Horse Park) is $14 (age 13 and older), seniors $13, children 7-12 $7, children 6 and under free.
Claiborne Farm, which has been in the Hancock family since its founding in the 1800s, is best known as the home of Secretariat, winner of the Triple Crown in 1973. The thoroughbred farm is a favorite of sheiks and other foreign visitors, including Queen Elizabeth II (who's been here twice). Colts such as Monopoly Pricing and Fear No Darkness prance about with stallions such as Out of Place. 703 Winchester Rd., Paris, Kentucky, 859/987-2330, www.claibornefarm.com. Tours offered Mon.-Sun. 10 a.m. and 11 a.m., but reservations are a must. Free (but a tip is suggested for your tour guide).
Churchill Downs & the Kentucky Derby Museum
Churchill Downs, of course, is home to "the greatest two minutes in sports," the annual Kentucky Derby. The museum here features a terrific introductory film, shown on a 360-degree screen that surrounds the main atrium. After viewing the movie, visitors can move on to enjoy the interactive exhibits, which include getting the chance to play jockey on a pair of virtual horses, and sample historical videos. As you head to the finish line, be sure to sign up for a walking tour of Churchill Downs, the oldest continuously oper-ated racetrack in America. Tours are conducted on the hour, weather permitting. 704 Central Ave., Louisville, Kentucky, 502/637-1111. Open Mon.-Sat. 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun. noon-5 p.m. (winter hours, December-March, are Mon.-Sat. 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun. noon-5 p.m.). The museum is closed Derby weekend, the first Friday and Saturday in May, and select other major race days. Admission $9, seniors $8, children 5-12 $4, children 4 and under free.
International Museum of the Horse
This complex, which is part of the Kentucky Horse Park (see below), positions itself as the largest museum in the world devoted to all things equine. Claiming to cover the entire 55-million-year history of the horse (whoa, Nellie!), the International Museum of the Horse includes the exhibit "Calumet Farm: Five Decades of Champions."
The museum also houses rotating fine-art displays such as "Landscapes of the Horse" (through May 29), "Equine Elegance: Equestrian Photography" (June 9-Oct. 31), "Gypsy Horses and the Traveler's Way: The Road to Appleby Fair" (June 17-Sept. 10) and the "American Academy of Equine Art's 2006 Open Juried Exhibition and Sale" (Sept. 22-Oct. 31). 4089 Iron Works Pkwy., Lexington, Kentucky, 859/233-4303 or www.imh.org. Open daily Memorial Day to Labor Day, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; open daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m. in September, October, April and May; open Wed.-Sun. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. in winter months. Admission (which includes the entire Kentucky Horse Park) is $14 (13 and older), seniors $13, children 7-12 $7, children 6 and under free.
Keeneland Race Course
Keeneland is a combination thoroughbred race course and sales location. Opened in 1936, the course is a National Historic Landmark. Races are held in April and October, while sales are held five times a year: Horses of all ages in January, 2-year-olds in April, yearlings in July and September, and breeding stock in November. In addition to live racing, the track features simulcast racing. 4201 Versailles Rd., Lexington, Kentucky, 859/254-3412 or www.keeneland.com. Gates open in racing months Wed.-Sat. at 11 a.m., with post time at 1:15 p.m. Admission $3.50, reserved seating weekdays $6, Sat.-Sun. $8, and $15 on Bluegrass Stakes Day in mid-April.
Kentucky Horse Park
This 1,200-acre working horse farm is surrounded by 30 miles of white plank fencing and features nearly 50 different breeds of all sizes. The complex also boasts a movie theater screening the film "Thou Shalt Fly Without Wings," exploring humanity's relationship with the noble horse. The Man o' War Memorial is a bronze sculpture honoring the champion famous for a 28-foot stride. (Such was the popularity of the horse that, when Man o' War retired to stud in the Bluegrass, 1.3 million fans stopped by over the years to meet him.) At the Farrier Shop, a blacksmith displays his iron-pounding craft and the art of horse shoeing.
A daily "Parade of Breeds" showcases the unique qualities of the different breeds and offers the chance for visitors to actually talk with costumed riders and pet the horses. The "Hall of Champions" pays tribute to the sport's legends, while the Draft Horse Barn is home to the "Gentle Giants" - the team that pulls the park's tour trolley. The team includes Belgians, Clydesdales, Percherons, English Shires, Halflingers, Suffolks and Mammoth Mules.
The park is also home to the American Saddlebred Museum and International Museum of the Horse. Admission includes these two facilities. 4089 Iron Works Pkwy., Lexington, Kentucky, 859/233-4303, www.kyhorsepark.com. Open Memorial Day to Labor Day, Mon.-Sun. 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; open September-October and April-May, Mon.-Sun. 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; open winter months Wed.-Sun. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission $14 (13 and older), seniors $13, children 7-12 $7, children 6 and under free.
The Thoroughbred Center
This thoroughbred training facility features guided tours of the 1,000-plus stalls, paddocks and grass gallops. The behind-the-scenes tour is billed as "A Day in the Life of a Thoroughbred in Training." And these folks definitely aren't horsing around, as the center's trainers prepare steeds for a dozen tracks around the country. 3380 Paris Pike, Lexington, Kentucky, 859/293-1853 or www.thethoroughbredcenter.com. $10 adults, $12 children 12 and under. Van tour hours vary, and advanced registration is required.
Three Chimneys Farm
A relative newcomer (founded in 1972), Three Chimneys Farm is nonetheless a contender to win, place or show in any tour of the Bluegrass. Famous residents include Smarty Jones and the 2001 "Horse of the Year," Point Given. 1981 Old Frankfort Pike, Versailles, Kentucky, 859/873-7053. Tours offered Tues.-Sat. 1 p.m. and include the stallion complex, breeding shed and mare receiving barn. There is no charge for the tour, but advance reservations are a must, as time slots are already booked into mid-May.
Seeds of the Bluegrass
So first off, what's with the moniker? The Bluegrass region is named for the grass that dominates the area's lush pastures. The grass produces small blue flowers during its blooming season each May, causing a blue tint.
The same limestone deposits that make the water in Kentucky so perfect for concocting bourbon also play a role in creating the region's perfect horses. The limestone in the soil injects calcium and phosphorous into the grass, which the prized horses feed on.
When You're Tired of Horsing Around
Kentucky is about more than just horses, of course. The state boasts a major theme park, a major-league science center, and even a Major League Slugger museum.
This Six Flags theme park opened in 1990 with two roller-coasters, Thunder Run and The Vampire. The park now boasts some 110 rides and attractions, including T2 ("Terror to the Second Power"), the first suspended looping coaster in North America; Chang, the world's longest and tallest standup coaster; and - new last year - the Tornado ride in the Hurricane Bay waterpark (which is included in the general park admission). The Looney Tunes Movietown area features rides exclusively for smaller kids. Located at the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center, junction of I-65 and I-264, Louisville, 800/SCREAMS, www.sixflags.com. Open varying hours April-October. Admission is $39.99, kids 48 inches and under $24.99. Kids under 3 are free, as are adults over the age of 65.
Louisville Science Center
The Science Center features a new $4-million permanent ecological exhibit, "The World Around Us," as well as 120 interactive displays and activity stations devoted to all aspects of science. "Let's Build" puts kids in charge of a construction site, while "Blast Off!" features a lunar model. "Chemistry Kitchen" presents daily shows, and there's an IMAX theater, too. 727 West Main St., Louisville, 502/561-6100, www.LouisvilleScience.org. Open Mon.-Thur. 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 9:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun. noon-6 p.m. Admission is $10 ($13 combo with IMAX); children 2-12, students 13 to college, and adults 65 and older $8 ($10 combo).
Louisville Slugger Museum
The museum pays homage to the Louisville Slugger bat, the official bat of Major League Baseball. Since 1884, the Hillerich and Bradsby Co. has turned out these wooden wonders. A factory tour lets you peek in on the manufacturing process, then the museum fills you in on the storied history. The world's biggest baseball bat rises 120 feet in front of the museum, so you can't miss it. A pitching cannon lets you experience what it's like to catch a 90 mph fastball, and you can view the sticks swung by the greats of the game: Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron and others. 800 West Main St., Louisville, 877/775-8443, www.sluggermuseum.org. Open Mon.-Sat. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and, April- November only, Sundays noon-5 p.m. Admission $9, seniors 60 and older $8, children 6-12 $4, free to kids 5 and under.