In this exhibit, you will explore how Kentucky became the horse capital of the world, and the center for breeding and raising Thoroughbred racehorses.
After the Civil War, men of fortune seeking a desirable location to build horse farms chose to purchase land in Kentucky. Farms such as Spendthrift, Calumet, and Claiborne laid the groundwork for future farms and helped make Kentucky the center of the equine industry in America. Kentucky’s limestone-based soil, lush grasses, and mineral-rich water were and remain the key ingredients necessary for the development of strong and healthy horses. Today, around 450 Thoroughbred farms are located in Kentucky. It comes as no surprise that more than 75% of all Kentucky Derby winners come from the Bluegrass State.
The exhibit features a replica of a Thoroughbred barn at Hermitage Farm, located in Oldham County, just 30 minutes northeast of Churchill Downs. Hermitage Farm was founded before the turn of the 20th century but became known for its prestigious horse breeding under owner Warner L. Jones Jr., who purchased the property in 1935. Jones’ great-grandmother was a Churchill, of the family from which the racetrack took its name, and his great-great uncle founded Churchill Downs as well as the Kentucky Derby in 1875. Hermitage Farm produced 1953 Kentucky Derby winner Dark Star, as well as Kentucky Oaks, Breeder’s Cup and other Stakes winners. In 1986, Queen Elizabeth II visited the farm to observe its horse breeding operation.
Dark Star and jockey Henry Moreno win the 1953 Kentucky Derby (Courtesy of Kentucky Derby Museum/Caulfield and Shook/Churchill Downs)
In 2010, Oldham County, Kentucky residents Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson purchased Hermitage Farm to save it from suburban development and expand the farmland for future generations. It remains a working Thoroughbred farm and offers organic farm-to-table dining, bourbon tastings and contemporary art exhibits on the grounds. The couple placed nearly seven hundred acres in a conservation easement so that it remains active farmland in perpetuity.
Click here to book the Hermitage Farm X Derby Museum Tour, which is a full-day immersive experience starting at the Museum, then goes to Churchill Downs and Hermitage Farm where you will tour the horse barns, have lunch and enjoy a bourbon tasting. Transportation to Hermitage Farm is included.
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