Thick, muggy air filled what looked like a retro college recreation room. I felt like I stepped back in time, but in reality I stood within the Jockey’s Quarters at Churchill Downs. Ken, my “Behind the Scenes” tour guide, explained that jockeys are very superstitious and don’t like change. That statement is evident in the frayed felt pool tables in the left corner, the square grey cafeteria style tables that sit next to a sepia buffet tablecloth lined with vintage silver food platters and large worn-in camel leather couches. Not many people get to see where the jockeys hang out before races; but I was on the Behind the Scenes tour of Churchill Downs and ready to visit exclusive areas of the track. In addition to the jockey’s recreation room, I visited their locker room, bedrooms, massage/ injury room, weigh in/out room and my personal favorite the silks room.
After visiting the Jockey’s Quarters, the atmosphere changed from retro to ravishing. My tour continued to Gate 17, where all the celebrities entered for Derby and Oaks. Up a double set of escalators to the second floor of Churchill Downs I visited the Champions Lounge, a swanky yet masculine room that allows off track betting as well as race day betting. It is rumored that Michael Jordan frequents the lounge in addition to other notable stars. I then ascended to floors five and six where the rich and famous come to enjoy Oaks and Derby—Millionaires Row. Expansive buffet tables donned the elegant rooms with doors leading onto the top of the grandstand overlooking the finish line. Elegance weaved throughout the rooms out to the terrace, which overlooks the paddock and the track.
Millionaires Row might be the place to be on Oaks and Derby, but the best view of the track is from the announcer’s box. The announcer’s box resides on the sixth floor next to Millionaire’s Row, is almost completely enclosed in glass and was the last stop on the tour. As I stepped into the box I discovered it was suspended right over the grandstand parallel to the track. When I looked out from the box I felt a combination of awe and fear. Seeing the track from that vantage point was amazing, but I did not have the guts to walk all the way to the edge of the box. Announcers must not be afraid of heights!
My “Behind the Scenes” tour, provided by the Kentucky Derby Museum, was splendid. I visited areas of Churchill Downs that are not normally frequented by the public and learned ample facts about the horseracing industry. For example: did you know on race days jockeys sometimes sit in the sauna until they reach their desired weight (between 108-110 lbs)? Visit the Kentucky Derby Museum to take the “Behind the Scenes” tour and learn fun facts about jockeys and the traditions of Churchill Downs.
By Gwendolyn Carnighan Kentucky Derby Museum Intern