Kentucky: Plenty of horsing around in the Bluegrass State

Louisville, the commonwealth’s economic and cultural leader, was originally settled by immigrants who came from Ireland, Scotland and Germany during the 1800s. Victorian homes with iron fences and stained-glass windows in Old Louisville, Butchertown, Crescent Hill and the Highlands neighborhoods reflect this heritage. It’s best known as the home of the Kentucky Derby, which is held on the first Saturday in May.

A must-see is the Kentucky Derby Museum. Enter through replica starting gates and be surrounded by a colorful video of racehorses running at you. Watch the museum’s most popular feature, a dynamic multimedia show on a 360-degree screen using nine high-definition projectors with 3 million mirrors in each projector. Become immersed in the pomp and pageantry of Derby week at Churchill Downs as you watch an overview of the life of a derby horse from foal to winner’s circle. Find out the importance of the jockeys and the backside crews. Learn about past derby winners and the people who helped make their victories possible. And don’t miss showcases of racing silks, trophies and glasses from past Derby Days.

Louisville’s revitalized downtown area near the Ohio River is home to many topnotch attractions. It’s hard to miss the Louisville Slugger Museum and Visitors Center. Just look for a big baseball bat. This museum’s entrance is marked by the world’s largest baseball bat, which is 120 feet long and weighs 68,000 pounds. As if that isn’t enough, the atrium is home to the world’s largest baseball glove, a 21-ton limestone sculpture. View a short film featuring some of baseball’s greatest hits. Then take a walk through an underground locker room and through a full-size dugout while listening to some of the greatest plays in the history of baseball. You’ll arrive at museum’s main section, a playing field known as the oval room, where rare baseball equipment and memorabilia are displayed. Count the home-run notches on Babe Ruth’s bat. Find your favorite players on the Wall of Signatures, which has imprints used to burn the names into the bats of over 8,000 players that have been under contract with maker Hillerich & Bradsby. Weekday tours include a walk through the manufacturing facility at Hillerich and Bradsby. Since 1894 “Louisville Slugger” has been the official trademark of their world famous bats. A block away, the Frazier International History Museum offers a chance to gain a better understanding of world history through riveting displays of 1,000 years of weaponry. This state of the art facility houses two world-class collections. The second floor is home to 1,500 items from the personal collection of Owsley Brown Frazier, retired vice chairman of Louisville-based Brown Forman Corp. Look for the rifle Teddy Roosevelt took on an African safari in 1909, a pair of General Custer’s ivory-handled pistols, Daniel Boone’s Bible, and a bow attributed to Geronimo. When the elevator opens on the third floor, you’ll see 350 items on long-term loan from the British Royal Armouries Museum. Don’t miss the details in life-sized tableaux depicting historic British battles. Opened in 2005, the nearby Muhammad Ali Center is a tribute to the boxer born Cassius Clay in Louisville, in 1942. This facility serves as an international education and cultural center as well as a museum with Ali’s boxing memorabilia.

While Lexington today is a cosmopolitan city in every way, it was once known as the “Athens of the West” for its culture and charm. It still takes pride in its historic neighborhoods. Winding rural roads around the city still offer spectacular views of majestic racehorses surrounded by white fences as they graze on bluegrass.

More than 1,000 acres of lush bluegrass house the Kentucky Horse Park, a facility dedicated to man’s relationship with the horse. The International Museum of the Horse traces the 5,000-year-old history of the horse, while the American Saddle Horse Museum has interactive displays and life-size models of the only breed of horse that is native to Kentucky. A covered wagon pulled by a team of draft horses is a great way to take the farm tour and view the horse show facilities. Don’t miss the regularly scheduled Parade of Breeds, which displays some of the park’s 40 breeds.

Mary Todd Lincoln House in Lexington is the childhood home of Abraham Lincoln’s wife, a restored 1803 Georgian-style home with period furnishings.
By Susan Eberman – For Antique Trader