Search For:

Share This

No Title 844

Kentucky Derby: Two Weeks of Fun

Slither to Kentucky Reptile Zoo

Kentucky Derby: Two Weeks of Fun

Whether conducting meticulous betting strategies, picking a winner with a jockey’s catchy silks, or standing by as a professional people-watcher, you’ll fit right in at the Kentucky Derby in Louisville, now in its 130th year, or (800) 28-DERBY.

Always held the first Saturday in May, this year’s Derby is May 1 at Churchill Downs, or (502) 636-4400. Although the Downs will be in the midst of a $121 million renovation, with some facility and seating changes, that shouldn’t detract from a winning Derby experience, says Vice President of Communications John Asher.

Around 145,000 people are expected to attend the Derby, so the best bet for parking is by bus shuttle, Asher says. TARC, (502) 585-1234 or, will have continuous service between both the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center and Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium to Churchill Downs from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. for $10 round-trip with free Exposition Center parking and $10 stadium parking. Alternatively, park at the stadium and walk to the track, or park in the yards of nearby residents who offer spaces for $20 to $25, Asher adds.

Once at the Downs, admission is $40 for unlimited general admission to the 40-acre infield, and access to the clubhouse and grandstand areas. Reserved seating tickets sell out early—their application letters are accepted through September 1 each year. The facility seats just under 50,000 Asher says.

Public security measures will be present, but to what extent, Asher says, depends upon current world events and law enforcement recommendations. Aside from bringing in alcohol, which is always forbidden, check the official Derby Web site for listings of prohibited items.

Renovations include building a new six-floor clubhouse—three lower floors will be ready for Derby 130, but standing in for the new Millionaires’ Row and Skye Terrace areas under construction is a luxurious temporary Infield Hospitality Village where 3,500 Derby VIP guests can mingle.

Asher has attended every Derby since 1982, and says from the extravagant couture fashions to the silly hats outfitted with beer caddies, the Derby is a must-see social affair.

Derby Day races begin at 11 a.m. and continue throughout the day, but the crowd’s roar swells as everyone sings My Old Kentucky Home, and the horses reach the starting gate for the 6:04 p.m. Derby post time, Asher says. As the horses bolt from the gate, urged forward by their jockeys during the two-minute race, the excitement only builds.

“It’s incredible,” Asher says. “The Derby, it’s a great sports event, but it’s so much more than that. I consider it just a great piece of Americana.”

To experience the full taste of the Kentucky Derby, one must take part in the myriad of events held during the two weeks prior, called the Kentucky Derby Festival.

From April 16-May 2, 70 events precede the greatest two minutes in sports. For complete information on the 2004 Kentucky Derby Festival, go online to or call (800) 928-FEST.

Your only fee to many of the Kentucky Derby Festival events requires a one-time purchase of a 2004 Pegasus Pin for $3, available at Kroger stores and other participating retailers, and wearing it.

Kentucky Derby Museum, with interactive exhibits, art, and Derby artifacts, or (502) 637-7097, is located near Gate 1 at Churchill Downs. Closed on both Derby Day and Oaks Day on April 30, it is open Monday through Sunday the rest of the year, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and special events. Admission is $9 adults, $8 seniors, $3 children ages 5-12, free under age 5.

Highlighted Derby Festival Events
Thunder Over Louisville, Saturday, April 17, is the nation’s largest annual fireworks display, viewed by 600,000 people. A prime viewing spot is Waterfront Park. Show your Pegasus Pin to enter. Visit the Thunder Web site at for event history, viewing tips, and parking options.

Derby Chow Wagon, featuring live music, food, and beverages, runs April 22 until Derby Eve. Located at Waterfront Park, free entrance with Pegasus Pin.

US Bank Great Balloon Glow, 9 p.m., April 23, and the US Bank Great Balloon Race at 7 a.m., April 24, both at the Kentucky Fair and Expo Center. Parking fee and Pegasus Pin admission for each.

•Derby running events have changed this year. The Triple Crown of Running now consists of a 5K, 10K, and 10-mile race, with Papa John’s 10-miler set for April 10. For info, go to The Meijer Derby Festival Marathon and mini-Marathon,, begins 7:30 a.m., April 24, at Iroquois Park. Free to spectators, entrance fee for runners.

Derek Anderson Basketball Classic, 7:30 p.m., April 24, at Freedom Hall. Tickets $8 and $12.50 reserved, call Ticketmaster at (800) 487-1212 or

Great Steamboat Race (tickets $125 to ride Belle of Louisville, Ticketmaster), 5 p.m., April 28, gather along the Ohio River to watch free.

Pegasus Parade, 5 p.m., April 29, W. Broadway from Campbell to 9th Street. Bleacher seating $8, Ticketmaster; otherwise free.

Shannon Leonard-Boone is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.
Back to Top

Slither to Kentucky Reptile Zoo

Snakes and snails and puppy dogs’ tails. Like many little boys, Jim Harrison had a fascination for snakes. But instead of having his interest stifled as he grew older by peer pressure or by old wives’ tales touting snakes as bad, he had a teacher father who gave him books to learn more about reptiles and had several encouraging mentors in his Ohio neighborhood, including Mike Goode, curator of the Columbus Zoo.

“When I learned that venoms could not only take lives but could save lives and were necessary for medical research, I decided to go that direction,” says Harrison, founder and executive director of the non-profit Kentucky Reptile Zoo, set on 60 acres near Natural Bridge in Slade. At age 12, he caught his first rattlesnake, and at 17 was extracting venom from king cobras and wrestling alligators at a Florida farm.

When his police career was cut short by a serious on-duty injury at 24, Harrison turned his “hobby” into a profession and opened the zoo, which has evolved into a fascinating educational facility and tourist destination. Added in 1995, its venom extraction lab supplies pharmaceutical research and ships antivenin worldwide.

Exhibiting one of the best venomous snake collections in the United States, Kentucky Reptile Zoo’s 1,100 to 1,200 animals include native species such as copperheads, cottonmouths, and rattlesnakes. Exotics from Africa, Asia, and Australia include green and black mambas, gaboon and rhinoceros vipers, spitting cobras, puff and death adders, and the longest venomous snake, the king cobra. Non-venomous reptile residents include alligators, pythons, anacondas, turtles, and lizards.

“I think people are drawn to things they’re scared of,” says Kristen Wiley, Kentucky Reptile Zoo’s curator. “Unfortunately, a lot of people are scared of snakes, and it’s interesting for them to come and see snakes in a safe situation. There are very few places in this country you can see this variety of snakes in one place, and here you can watch venom extraction live, which is very unusual.”

Three times daily in season, visitors can hear talks by Wiley or an intern featuring live reptiles, or can observe extraction, called milking, done only by Harrison, an expert who’s been at this for 27 years. Providing venom for research is the primary reason for the zoo’s large population, and Jim milks in a way that is not harmful to the snakes.

Squeamish folks will be happy to know that except for a few species, most of the animals are fed already dead, frozen meals. The process is more humane, says Wiley.

Animals come to Kentucky Reptile Zoo from other zoos, as confiscated illegally owned pets, or by being born there (check out the Web site nursery shots). Occasionally, they “go get ’em in the jungle.” When on a species-gathering trip last October, the Kentucky Reptile Zoo staff caught boas in the rain forest and hooked up with a National Geographic crew on St. Lucia to film an episode for its Snake Wrangler series. Check National Geographic channel listings during late spring or early summer to see these adventurous folks at work.

As a non-profit, the zoo gleans funding from venom sales, program fees for school and group educational visits, grants, gate admissions, and an “adoption” program. Impressed with Kentucky Reptile Zoo’s mission, a National Geographic cameraman even donated a car.

Kentucky Reptile Zoo, (606) 663-9160, is at exit 33 (Slade/Natural Bridge State Resort Park) on the Mountain Parkway. Hours are 11 a.m.–6 p.m. daily Memorial Day through Labor Day, and Friday, Saturday, and Sunday the rest of the year. Call to arrange an animal visit to a school or group. See the Kentucky Reptile Zoo’s Web site at

Herpetology Weekend
Whether you’re a professional herpetologist, a reptile owner, or just enjoy all things slithery, Natural Bridge State Resort Park’s Herpetology Weekend can hook you up with several hundred others of like mind and with the critters themselves.

Held April 16-17, the event is the park’s largest, filling its campground and keeping attendees busy Friday evening and all day Saturday with field trips into the Gorge, talks by experts, and live animal shows.

“Between the state park, Daniel Boone National Forest, and Red River Gorge, we have a lot of land that’s pretty old forest,” says Zeb Weese, park naturalist, “so we have some guys living here that you won’t typically see in farm fields or urbanized areas.”

Beginning at 8 a.m. on Saturday, the field trips range from “fairly strenuous” to walks for kids. Professionals and members of the Kentuckiana Herpetological Society take groups of 10 to 15 to areas of the Gorge known as habitats for certain reptiles.

Registered participants get to tour the Kentucky Reptile Zoo.

Find out more about the weekend, lodging, and dining at or call (800) 255-PARK.

Slink across the road to Miguel’s Pizza Restaurant & Climb Shop, (606) 663-1975, where you can choose from 30-plus ingredients for a handmade pie.

Katherine Tandy Brown is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.

Back to Top

Don't Leave! Sign up for Kentucky Living updates ...

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.