People on the Kentucky Derby Tours constantly asked, “Is there a place with Kentucky Derby memorabilia?” There had been a small room near the old paddock at Churchill Downs where some memorabilia was kept but not anything fit to hold the history of the Kentucky Derby. For as long as we can remember, everyone wanted a Kentucky Derby Museum.
In the early 1980’s, things changed and the plans were started for the Kentucky Derby Museum. Lynn Stone, then President of Churchill Downs asked us to start talking about the plans for the Kentucky Derby Museum on the West Coast. We talked up the Kentucky Derby Museum and showed Kentucky Derby Tour participants where and what the Museum would be like for years.
Kentucky Derby Tours was very involved with the Kentucky Derby Museum even before it opened. During construction, we walked the building. When the new computer arrived, we booked Kentucky Derby Tours to visit the Museum on the Thursday before the Kentucky Derby at 10 AM for the next 50 years (we were trying to see how the computer worked for schedules).
Kentucky Derby Tours was very excited to just be one of the first groups to be able to see the new Museum. About a month before the 1985 Kentucky Derby, we received a call asking if it would be OK with Kentucky Derby Tours if Churchill Downs held the Post Position draw (Pill Pull) for the Kentucky Derby at the Museum at 10 AM. Since we had the reservation first, the Museum would honor our reservation. But if we were OK with it, Churchill Downs would like to invite press, Derby owners, trainers and jockeys to a closed event and do the Post Position Draw for the Kentucky Derby in the Kentucky Derby Museum. Kentucky Derby Tours could watch the Post Position Drawing and then tour the Museum. After about 10 seconds, we said we were fine with that!
We will never forget our first Derby at the Kentucky Derby Museum. First there was the Post Position Draw. The Great Hall of the Museum was electric and the anticipation grew as each name was called. We had watched the “pill pull” years ago but this was an event. You could feel the tension build as each group waited to hear their horse called. The Great Hall was abuzz. The atmosphere of the Museum brought out the emotions of each owner, trainer and jockey as they heard their names called.
Then participants of the Kentucky Derby Tours saw the film, “The Greatest Race” in the 360 degree theater. There were thrills, chills, and tears! For many months after opening, even the Museum staff had a hard time working because of the chills every time the movie played and they tried to work.