I've discovered there's loads to see and do in Kentucky as well as racing.
The smell of leather, the spray of sweat and the woosh of speed as thoroughbreds thunder down the homestretch is what racing is all about. One of the iconic outings in this timeless sport is coming up at Church Hill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky this weekend.
Three year olds and their jockeys test skills and stamina running 1 ¼ miles to snatch the famous Kentucky Derby cup. The trophy is topped by an 18-karat gold horse and rider, includes horseshoe shaped handles. The excitement will be off the scale.
The month before is the race meeting at Keeneland Racetrack in Lexington. I went along at dawn to see the horses warming up on the track in the brisk morning air and followed with breakfast at The Track Kitchen and played 'spot the jockey'. Keeneland was the dream of Jack Keene who started the project just before the Great Depression. The track has changed little over time and has featured in films such as Seabiscuit.
Got the urge to ride? Head out to the Kentucky Horse Park where trail rides are reasonably priced for those with a park entrance ticket. I went out on STAR with our guide, Kevin, leading the way through the extensive grounds.
Two Belgian horses called Jason and Connor took a fancy to my husband (trying to nibble his jacket). Absolutely hilarious. We stifled our laughter and made our way to The Farmhouse which offers great lunches for hungry riders.
Zip-a-dee-doo-dah! I tried out the adventure zip line tour over the stunning Red River Gorge in Eastern Kentucky. This adrenaline fuelled activity is not for the faint of heart! On the longest zips, one is 1900 ft., I reached speeds of up to 65 miles per hour. The guides provide comic relief as well as support and started us on a 'bunny hill' zip to build our confidence.
I was connected in two places to the wire so very secure and held onto the pulley with a handle. There is a device to slow your speed at the other end as you whiz onto the platform just before they catch you.
When I stumbled across The Cumberland Falls Resort Park, I found it is nothing less than stunning. Black bears still roam these woods that bloom fluorescent green and violet every spring.
But the star of the show here are the falls. The Cumberland River creates a beautiful curtain of waterfalls at this spot. During a full moon, you might even see a moonbow (aka lunar rainbow) suspended above the boulders on the lower part of the falls. This phenomenon is unique in the Western Hemisphere. Hike Trail Six just beside the historic Dupont Lodge and down .75 miles to the falls. It has a few rugged stone steps and is occasionally steep but well worth the effort. This is part of a 17 mile trail network. We had a cool drink on the lodge's balcony but discovered that no alcohol is served here as it is a dry county.
WOOD SONGS AND ARTISANS
After two days, the haunting voice of singer Emily is still in my head. She is a back-up artist for folk singer Michael Johnathon, creator of the WoodSongs Old Time Radio Hour.
I heard Emily and company weave their music magic at the Lyric Theatre in Lexington. Brainchild of Michael, this multi-media celebration of grassroots Americana music is recorded every Monday night and broadcast around the world. I heard JJ Grey and the Mofro Band as well as local talent 15 year old Slade Warnken. The 924 seat Lyric Theatre is the perfect, intimate size for this unique programme. It seems a bit 'canned' to applaud with a cue from a sign but its fun and all part of the experience that includes interviews and out-takes.
Speaking of weaving magic, visit Berea to see artists demonstrating their various crafts like flash bead firing and pewter casting. I was so impressed with the weavers and their wares I even bought a runner made from rags while hubby purchased cherry wood cooking utensils. Kentucky Artisans Center is based here as well.
At the Shaker Village off HWY 18 they have kept the original grounds and buildings in pristine condition. The gift shop offers cherry wood furnishings in the Shaker style as well as the famous Shaker round boxes.
Lunch at the Trustees Dining Room at The Shaker Village is a treat and features home grown cooking. The Tomato and Celery soup is to die for and the Chicken Croquettes with gravy and beans are home cooking at its best. I tried the Lemon Pie and, in true Shaker tradition, it even includes the lemon's rind. Delicious.
Miguel's Pizza out at Red River Gorge is famous for being 'off grid', a hangout for hippies, rock climbers and drop outs. Well, I tried the pizza there and it was delicious. There is a choice of about thirty toppings and the joint is furnished with old car bench seats to sit on; very comfy. It's out of the way but charming.
It's really cool to check out The Harland Sander's Museum and Café on US 25 in Corbin and see where Kentucky Fried Chicken began. Colonel Sanders started his small restaurant franchise here and was the first to pressure cook chicken. This cut preparation time by two thirds, possibly making him the originator of fast food. We had lunch at the restaurant and it truly was, as they claim, finger lickin' good!
Rates at Shaker Village start at $100 plus tax and are from $160 plus tax for a suite.
Rates at the DuPont Lodge at Cumberland Falls from $75 to $130 plus tax.