We really wanted to have some interaction with the horses at Churchill Downs when we did our tour. However, unbeknownst to us, there are no horses there now because of construction. The only tour available was a trip out to Hermitage Farm and since it included being able to pet the horses, I was in! This tour is a combination tour with the Kentucky Derby Museum. The tour starts at 9am at the Museum.
We arrived about 15 minutes early, so we wandered around the museum while we waited for our tour to begin. The tour itself just brings you out to the track. I’m not sure if this is because there is so much construction going on or if this is the normal tour. Honestly it wasn’t much of a tour. We sat out on the bleachers next to the track and the tour guide explained everything around us. She was very knowledgeable about Churchill Downs, its history, costs of both the company and of horse owners, and the Derby in general. It was interesting to learn some cool facts, like the fact that they make 2 billion dollars from the Derby alone, but I like to walk around and see things and you don’t. Perhaps if we go again we would take the tour that brings you to the celebrity luxury boxes.
After the tour they bring you back to the museum to watch a film about the Derby. It is presented on an oval track of screens above you and you sit on bar stools that swivel. It was a neat idea. It made me a little dizzy, but I moved more than most people. After the video we looked around the museum a bit more then headed to Hermitage Farm. The farm is about half an hour from the Derby museum. You can pay to take a shuttle, but it requires a reservation of four people. It was easier and cheaper for us to drive ourselves. I’m pretty sure everyone on our tour drove their own car to the farm.
When you get to the farm they give you a tour of the gardens and explain all the plants that they use in their restaurant. You then get a box lunch from the restaurant (included in the tour price). We can be pretty picky eaters, so Jef requested only a sandwich with meat and cheese and I requested no bell peppers (you wouldn’t believe how many things have them) since I am allergic. The sandwiches we received were not exciting. Mine had some kind of spread on it that I did not enjoy along with tomatoes and bologna. Jef had cheese and bologna. I looked around at other diners and found they had roast beef. I’m not sure why we got bologna (maybe for requesting something special), but we did enjoy the bread. It was homemade, thick, and delicious. It also came with a salad of corn and other things I couldn’t identify and a tasty peanut butter brownie. After eating we wandered around their boardwalk, which apparently has an art installation viewable only at night. We found a friendly butterfly and scary caterpillar.
We returned to the restaurant building to have a bourbon tasting upstairs. The tour director did a great job of explaining how to drink it and what we should be tasting. All the bourbon was from specially select barrels, which you can buy only at the store at the farm. I thought it was all awful. The only one that was slightly better than the rest was the first one. It did not help that the last one was at 130 proof. I am just not a bourbon drinker. It was a fun experience though.
We walked up to the main house after the tasting (they did offer a golf cart for those people who couldn’t handle the hill). No one lives in the house. They use it for weddings and other events. There is also a cottage behind the house in which most couples use after the wedding. The house has a lot of neat art in it because the owners of the farm are collectors.
The horse part of the farm is now used mostly for breed mares. People pay them to house the mares and handle the entire pregnancy. They also have an area with their own horses that race carriages. I did not realize this was an actual event. I only thought it was back when there were no cars, but apparently it is a big deal. We were able to pet the carriage racing horses. I loved it.
We were not allowed to touch or go near the mares or their foals, but we watched them all walk out to the field. They are not owned by the farm, so I understand why we had to keep our distance. They were all very beautiful. The mares were already pregnant with their next foal. They let them into the field and they all ran around with each other. They do not stray far from the pack. It was adorable.
Once the horses are back at Churchill Downs (in September) they will have some tours in which you can watch them practice and go see them in the barns there. I think they will still offer this tour as well. I thought it was a good introduction to the Derby and thoroughbred horses, but it was not the most exciting tour we have experienced. I would have loved to see what the restaurant at Hermitage Farm had on its menu for dinner, but it changes depending on the day. It would be worth a trip out to the farm to eat there.