The day after the Indy 500, Memorial Day, Jim and I had no plans. While we were trying to figure out what to do with the day – and what would be open – we somehow got to talking about Derby and Jim remembered that Churchill Downs is in Louisville, Kentucky – just 114 or so miles south of Indianapolis. We did a quick web search and discovered that the horses were running. An hour later, we were off to the Races.
Our drive South through Indiana was scenic and fast. In less than two hours we were crossing the Ohio river into Kentucky. We pulled into Churchill Downs just as the second race of the day went off.
While meandering our way through the parking maze, another car pulled up alongside us and in a very unusual move for people from the West Coast, and especially LA, we rolled down the window to see what was going on. The gentleman who pulled up alongside us had passes he wasn’t using and handed them over to us. Free admission – our first piece of luck of the day. Auspicious? I think so.
Seeing Churchill Downs for the first time is surreal for anyone who grew up seeing photos of those famous twin spires. Because while the twin spires are there, there is also a whole new expansion tacked onto the old that bears a striking resemblance to a Reno Casino. Not Vegas, Reno.
As we were directed to our seats, we realized just how lucky we were when we rolled down that car window. Our tickets turned out to be for box seats on the third level, just to the left of the finish line. After watching a quick race, Jim headed off to purchase a program and race sheet and I headed to the balcony overlooking the paddock to view the horses for Race No. 4.
Jim and I have very different strategies at the races. He looks at the experts’ picks, the odds, and the horse. If the odds at the track are better or the same as predicted and the horse looks good he goes with the experts’ picks, betting mere seconds before the windows close. I go with which name I like and if the odds are incredible – like 24-1, and I nearly always just bet to show (1st, 2nd or 3rd).
My method started out hot, when He’s Rising – who none of the experts picked – with odds of 15-1 or something like that, came in third in Race 4. My next bets were not so hot. I lost 4 out of 5. But on the last race we bet, the 10th and the big stakes race of the day, my 24-1 horse – Secret Gypsy – came through for me, making me up about 3 whole dollars for the day (my bets range between $2-$5 as this is just for fun not loss or profit).
Jim fared better – he bet 5 times and won 4. In one race he pulled off an amazing feat betting the winning horse to win and the second place horse to place – why he didn’t place an exacta wager is beyond me. Oh, wait, neither of us really is quite sure how that works, maybe that’s the reason. Jim’s winnings covered our racetrack cuisine (a brat and soft serve swirl), beverages (Heineken and Budweiser for Jim (because he convinced himself American beer would help him win, even though he never drinks Bud and it’s no longer American) and more water for me), and parking (a steal at $3). So we ended up spending a day at the track for free – ideal, when you can make it happen. Note: I have yet to accomplish this feat in Vegas – of course when you throw in hotel and airfare you have more expenses to cover with your $5 bets 😉
We took Races 8 and 9 off and explored the grounds, viewing the horses up close in the paddock area, wandering through the old – and closed for the day – sections, seeing all the names of the former winners – including Spokane and Seattle Slew – and finding a deserted rail to position ourselves on for the 10th Race for some up close photos.
We both won in Race 10 and decided it was time to call it a day (there were 11 races total). We walked out of Churchill Downs, taking one last look at those twin spires before heading off to the Highlands area of Louisville for our next adventure.