by D.J. Wilson –
Great attention is always focused on the world’s most legendary horse race, the Kentucky Derby. Now in its 138th year, this stylish event is annually held the first Saturday in May. Race enthusiasts, celebrities and die-hard sports aficionados gather at Churchill Downs to witness what is considered by many to be the most sophisticated sporting events of the season, the crown jewel of horse racing. Called “The Run for the Roses” for the blanket of roses draped over the winner, this race attracts great domestic and international attention. While the media coverage hones in on the ladies’ hats and summer dresses, the thoroughbreds’ profiles and the exciting two minute race, less attention is given to the town in which the race is held. It’s only fitting to re-direct our attention to Louisville, Kentucky.
Home to the nation’s largest urban forest, featuring over 120 parks and boasting the largest Victorian neighborhood in the United States, Louisville is truly unique to visit. This largest city in the State of Kentucky gained notoriety in the 19th century as an internal shipping port. Situated on the border between Kentucky and Indiana, the metropolitan area is sometimes called ‘Kentuckiana’, as it includes counties in Southern Indiana. The city is proud of its multicultural heritage, with deep roots in history. Louisville embraces its historic past, from the African American Experience and early establishment of Asian and Jewish communities, to the latter growth of Hispanic and Latino populations. Founded in 1778 by George Rogers Clark, Louisville was named after King Louis the XVI of France and is one of the oldest cities west of the Appalachian Mountains.
There’s much to do in Louisville. Besides visiting Churchill Downs, the Muhammad Ali Center offers exhibits and stories on this popular and controversial native citizen. Built as a tribute to this champion athlete, the center is located on “Museum Row” in the west main district of downtown. Opened in 2005, and while others may question some of his choices, the museum emphasizes Muhammad Ali’s core values on respect, confidence, conviction, dedication, charity and spirituality. The facility includes a two level amphitheater, a mock-boxing ring and Ali’s boxing memorabilia. There are also pods showing his greatest fights as well as showcasing famous interviews before and after his matches.
For those who prefer outdoor activities, Jefferson Memorial Forest is ideal. Featuring over 6,000 acres, with 30 plus miles of walking trails, a stroll through this wildlife refuge is a great way to enjoy the serene beauty Louisville has to offer. Boat lovers should not miss an opportunity to cruise aboard the Belle of Louisville or Spirit of Jefferson. Offering public lunch and dinner cruises, which includes live entertainment and narration by the riverboat captain, it brings sightseeing to a whole new level. Celebrating her 100th birthday in 2014, The Steamer Belle of Louisville is a national Historic landmark. The sound of her calliope beckons passengers to board and journey back in time to when she carried travelers and goods to ports along the Ohio River, which served as a link between east coast cities and the mighty Mississippi. A cruise on this oldest operating Mississippi style steamboat offers rich and unforgettable views of the waterfront.
The city is rich in art and culture, with a wide variety of art galleries and museums. Craftsman flock Louisville and share their talents working with wood, metal, glass and ceramics. The Speed Art Museum is a must-see destination, serving as a visual arts venue. The museum displays an extensive amount art, including African, Ancient and Native American, American, European and Contemporary works. Louisville is also home to the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, the oldest ongoing celebration of the Bard’s work in the country. Located in the city are dozens of performance companies, making drama, music and dance a major component of the city’s identity. Proud of hosting the Kentucky Bluegrass Music Festival, the city provides an ideal setting for musical entertainment. The Festival features Bluegrass instruments, such as banjos, fiddles, dobros and bass, and the music is greatly enjoyed by festival guests.
Most agreeably, the Kentucky Derby is a renowned event worthy of showcasing. However, it’s equally important to give great recognition to its resplendent host city, often overshadowed in the media frenzy each May. Once the hoopla of the race is over and the red carpet events move out of town, Louisville, Kentucky remains a vital city most worthy of attention. Offering a plentitude of activities for all ages, Louisville, Kentucky, like the Derby itself, is legendary. Balancing tradition and contemporary excitement with an amalgam of diverse cultures, Louisville provides an exceptional and memorable experience for all visitors.
*Congratulations to “I’ll Have Another”, winner of the 2012 Kentucky Derby. The horse is interestingly named after the owner’s response to an offer for one more of his wife’s fresh baked cookies.