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  • Writer's pictureG. Huddleston

Kentucky Derby Museum Visit| May 2017

The Kentucky Derby Museum tells the 143-year story of the Derby and all its pageantry, as well as the parallel story of the star of the show-the thoroughbred horse.

​The Kentucky Derby Museum hosts over 200,000 visitors annually, over 70% of whom come from outside of Kentucky.

And the museum, located in the main gate area of Churchill Downs, presents those stories in stunning color of 4K high resolution cinema and the authentic accounts and equipment associated with the Derby's biggest stars, both human and equine.

A tour group of Agribusiness Industry Network members visited the museum two weeks after this year's running of the Oaks and Derby, and were greeted by museum president Patrick Armstrong and other staff members.

The facility is coming off its biggest year for visitors in 2016, and is prepping a bevy of new exhibits to keep the momentum going. And it doesn't hurt that one of its signature attractions, the 360-degree HD video called "The Greatest Race," has been redone featuring the 2015 Derby won by Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.

Coming to the museum later this year is a collection of trophies and racing paraphernalia belonging to trainer D. Wayne Lukas. His trophy case includes four from Derby wins, four more from the Belmont Stakes and six from the Preakness.

Those symbols of recent racing excellence will join the thousands of other exhibit items and documentary artifacts dating to the first Derby, run in 1875 as the first race at a then brand new track operated by the Louisville Jockey Club.

A visitor favorite is a Time Machine featuring videos of every Derby since 1918. Not only have the clothes, hats and track features changed over those 99 years. But the improvements in video quality through the ensuing decades are equally noteworthy as visitors relive the highlights of races long past.

Other popular features in the museum include the international Horseshoe Hall of Fame and a gift shop which last year realized $3.8 million in sales.

Armstrong says the museum's 75-person staff annually hosts better than 200,000 visitors, 70 percent of whom come from outside Kentucky. Many of those visit the track and museum while in Louisville for conventions and trade shows. Those numbers are likely to climb when the renovated downtown Convention Center and a bevy of new hotels come on line over the next few years.

And the return of the Breeders Cup to Churchill next year provides another opportunity to build traffic among some of horse racing's most devoted fans.

But guests from the local community are also a major target for the museum's promotional efforts. Armstrong says his staff is working on ways to entice previous visitors to pay a return visit, touting the updated video and rotating exhibits as reasons to come for a second or third look.

Tours of the historic racetrack itself are conducted by the museum staff, and thoroughbred enthusiasts can pick from a menu of options, including nighttime, backside and garden walkthroughs.

The museum's educational outreach programs combine on-site presentations about the business side of raising and racing horses with visits to classrooms across the state to build interest in the equine industry among students.

No visit to the Derby Museum would be complete without a few nuggets of Derby trivia from the extensive history of the most celebrated horse race in the world. For instance:

  • The first Derby was the first race run at the new track in 1875. And it was run on a Monday.

  • The 1915 Derby Win by Regret, the first filly to win the race, was such a media sensation that it helped put the Derby on the national sports map and began its ascendance to the top rung of horse racing.

  • The first gold Derby trophy was awarded in 1924, designed and engraved by Louisville jewelers at Lemon and Sons.

  • The Derby julep souvenir glass made its first appearance in 1939.

For those and hundreds of other Derby factoids, the museum staff stands ready to share their knowledge and show off their thousands of mementos and artifacts. Individuals or groups are welcome. They invite you to visit their website, for prices and schedules, as well as special attractions on tap for the rest of the year and beyond.

Gary Huddleston | AIN Chairman

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