Thursday, October 11, 2018

Horses & Haunts Tour of Churchill Downs: A Photo Essay

Churchill Downs, the historic horse track located in Louisville, KY, is most famous for hosting the annual running of The Kentucky Derby.  The iconic south end landmark was built in 1875 and the very first "Run for the Roses" was held the same year.  Churchill Downs was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 and is currently the sixth oldest horse track in the United States.

The Kentucky Derby Museum, which is located within Churchill Downs complex, offers a variety of tours throughout the year that take visitors through the labyrinthian structure.  The tours range from basic to in-depth and behind the scenes.  Every Wednesday in October, the Kentucky Derby Museum offers a unique Horses & Haunts Walking Tour that grants guests access to many exclusive areas of Churchill Downs, areas that most visitors do not get to see, while hearing tales and lore from past and present. 

Our tour started at the entrance to the Kentucky Derby Museum, which was built on top of the former Churchill Downs hospital.  After descending into the museum's basement, our leader regaled our group with several tales of death that happened on the grounds as well as strange encounters that employees of the museum have experienced.

Our tour took us by the paddock area, by empty betting windows, and outside to various points in the grandstand. 

One of the famous twin spires

The empty paddock

We had rain showers earlier that evening, but after the rains ceased, we were treated to a
fabulously colorful sky and sunset.

View of the first turn

The Kentucky Derby Winner's Circle

We heard tales of an gambling addict, a jockey who killed a women in cold blood (but wasn't convicted), and of the connection between Churchill Downs and the curse of the Hope Diamond.  

Here our guide explained the connection of The Hope Diamond and Churchill Downs.
The last private owner of the Hope Diamond wore the rumored cursed jewel
to the Kentucky Derby and on that day her son was struck and killed by an automobile.

Mural of all the jockeys who have won the Kentucky Derby.

One of the jockeys pictured in this picture is a killer.  Can you guess which one?
*The answer is at the end.

Although I didn't see any spirits or things that couldn't be explained, I will admit that it was really weird seeing the famous track devoid of people for every time I've visited before, it has been super crowded.

If you go:  The Horses & Haunts tour is offered every Wednesday in October, except when live racing is scheduled.  Because of that, there will be no racing on October 31 this year. The tour is approximately an hour and a half, involves climbing several sets of stairs, and is $15 per person.  

Skyline of downtown Louisville in the distance and the empty track grounds in the foreground.

Have you ever taken a walking tour of any kind at Churchill Downs?  If you have, what did you think of the experience?

Linking up with:

Wednesday Around the World

*The jockey left of the trophy with the orange/red cap and white silk with orange/red dots, Willie Saunders.


  1. I've been to Churchill Downs but never took a tour - fascinating! Thanks for sharing.

  2. I am not sure where you are getting your info, but great topic.
    I needs to spend some time learning more or understanding more.
    Thanks for great info I was looking for this info for my

    1. Thank you. I just went on the tour, that's where I got my information. :)

  3., some awesome skies! Do jockeys have such large noses?

    1. Apparently some do! LOL! Yes, the skies were spectacular that evening. It was a great treat after the rain.

  4. Hi, I haven't been to Church Hill Downs but I'll make a note of a place to visit. I've only lived in Kentucky three years so still have exploring to do.

    1. Churchill Downs is really cool. I'd recommend attending a day when they are racing (although you wouldn't be able to take a tour on that day).

  5. What an interesting place. I love the mural of the jockeys!

    1. The jockey mural is great, isn't it? They also have one of all the Derby winning trainers, but I didn't get a shot of that one.

  6. I haven't been to Churchill Downs yet, but a tour like this sounds like a great way to learn more about it. I'm glad you didn't see any spirits! Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard

    1. There are some daytime walking tours (basic and behind the scenes) that I would recommend, especially if it's your first time ever at the historic track.

  7. Ohh how interesting! I'll have to pass this on to my parents who live in Louisville! They would really enjoy this! Thanks for linking up with #TheWeeklyPostcard!

  8. That is so cool! **adding this to my bucket list**
    The statue at the end? Is it of the current Kentucky Derby winner? My mother-in-law lives in Hot Springs, AR not far from Oaklawn Race Track and they have a similar statue that they repaint every year to look like the horse & jockey that won the Arkansas Derby. Curious if they do the same.

    1. Yes, it’s of Barbaro who won the KY Derby in 2006. He shattered his leg in the Preakness, ending his career. He is interred there.


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