where to stay
Lodgings are difficult to come by during the derby — it's not unusual for rooms to be reserved a year in advance. Also expect grossly inflated prices and minimum-stay requirements.
Old Louisville Inn 1359 S. Third St.; 502/635-1574; doubles from $95. This stately 1901 inn, on one of the city's loveliest streets, has 10 pretty rooms with antique quilts and, in some, Victorian furniture, bay windows, and working fireplaces. Many bathrooms (nine en suite, one down the hall) have their original fixtures. Owner Marianne Lesher coddles guests with breakfast popovers and her own granola, and there's always a jigsaw puzzle in progress in the parlor.
Seelbach Hilton 500 Fourth Ave.; 502/585-3200; doubles from $129. For many well-heeled derby veterans, only this 95-year-old classic will do. Fitzgerald stayed at the Seelbach, then set a scene in The Great Gatsby here. Guest rooms have pencil-post beds, lavish window treatments, marble bathrooms. Stop in if only to see the lobby's barrel-vaulted ceiling, Hello, Dolly! staircase, and murals depicting early events in Kentucky history.
Camberley Brown 335 W. Broadway; 502/583-1234; doubles from $199. Opened in 1923, this is the only hotel in Louisville that gives the neighboring Seelbach a run for its money in grandeur. Think potted palms, ormolu chandeliers, old-world glamour. Traditionally decorated guest rooms have a distinctly American feel. In the clubby, paneled English Grill, try chef Joe Castro's salad of mâche and endive or confit of duck with white asparagus (dinner for two $80).
Louisville has one of the most impressive public park systems in the United States, with more parks designed by Frederick Law Olmsted's firm than any other city in the country. Cherokee Park has a Scenic Loop that attracts walkers, runners, cyclists, skaters, and slackers. The great draw at Iroquois Park is the beautiful view from its 260-foot hill. Shawnee Park hugs the Ohio River and has facilities for almost any game that requires a ball.
the greatest two minutes in sports
It's already too late: for reserved seating at the 125th running of the Kentucky Derby, to be held on May 1, your written request had to have been in by September 1 of last year (Churchill Downs Derby Office, 700 Central Ave., Louisville, KY 40208; 502/636-4400). Those lucky enough to secure a six-seat box in sections 116 or 117, which flank the finish line, paid $510.
But all is not lost. General admission tickets are available on Derby Day for $30 at the gate, which opens at 8 a.m. The Kentucky Derby Festival (502/584-6383) ignites on April 17 with Thunder Over Louisville, the largest annual fireworks display in the country. Other festival highlights: the Great Balloon Race at the Kentucky Fair & Exposition Center, April 24; the Great Steamboat Race, on the Ohio River, April 28; and the Pegasus Parade, on Broadway, April 29. All four events are free except for bleacher seats and chairs for the parade ($8 and $10; call 800/929-3378). At Brown-Waterhouse-Kaiser Jewelers (332 W. Broadway; 502/583-2728), you can buy a 12-inch-tall sterling silver Official Kentucky Derby Mint Julep Cup, engraved with the year and winner.