Most people consider Thunder Over Louisville as the de facto start to Derby season, but I’m not most people. Derby season is the most wonderful time of the year and it can only be better by starting it sooner. Until the first Saturday in May, I’ll be doing my best to get you in the right mindset for the Fastest Two Minutes in Sports.
Before I tell you which horse will win or how to Derby like a local, the official Kentucky Derby Festival has dozens of fantastic events, but I think there’s a way to make it even better. Here are just a few pieces of advice for the suggestion box.
Fix the Chow Wagon
Also known corporately as the “Festa-ville on the Waterfront,” the Chow Wagon concept has been dying a slow death since their prime before my time in the 80’s/early 90’s when there used to be a handful around town. Now it’s restricted to Waterfront Park.
To someone who’s never been, the Chow Wagon is essentially a beer garden with food vendors. Admission is free with a Pegasus Pin and live music is typically involved, making for an entertaining night on the Louisville Waterfront.
Even when there are other KDF sanction events to provide entertainment (like an OVW match), the Chow Wagon is a total letdown. There’s plenty of different foods, but only if you like your food deep fried and overpriced. It’s state fair food that is not unique. I love a good footlong $8 corndog as much as your regular ballpark food junkie, but I can barely eat one before the self-loathing kicks in.
The lack of options leaves the Chow Wagon for a very specific demographic, one that doesn’t have a ton of expendable income. When I took an out of towner for the first time last year, they expected food trucks from local establishments. That should be expected.
Louisville was voted as the #1 food city IN THE WORLD by National Geographic. I can’t think of a better way to show off that local food to outsiders than by allowing booths to be setup downtown. During last weekend’s French Quarter Fest, I got to try dishes I had never even heard of — soft-shell crab po’boys, crawfish rolls, stuffed sausage and a bunch of other cajun creations I can’t pronounce. There’s no good reason why visitors can’t try a hot brown, bourbon balls or a slice of Derby Pie.
Move the Basketball Game
I bet you didn’t know that the Kentucky Derby Festival Classic is the oldest high school all-star game in the nation. Even when the McDonald’s and Jordan games came to prominence over the last decade, the KDF Classic still drew plenty of superstars. It wasn’t just for future famous Cats and Cards, Moses Malone and Dominique Wilkins played in the game.
As a brief anecdote, I first learned of KSR from my friends after we watched Patrick Patterson perform at the “Night of the Future Stars” at Bellarmine. They brought a cardboard cutout of P-Patt and they weren’t even the craziest UK fans in the stands, trying to encourage Patterson to wear blue and white. When I wanted to learn more on where UK stood, they directed me to KSR.
The game has lost its luster over the years thanks to Mr. Michael Jordan. The KDF Classic has professional production value and shoe company sponsorships, but they can’t compete with the Jordan Brand, New York City and national television. Both high school all-star games were played last night. Four future Wildcats played in New York instead of Louisville. Rules limit the number of all-star events high schoolers can attend, but if they were on different weekends, it’s very likely that Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones would have joined Brad Calipari last night in Louisville. It would have been fun for the fans, the players, and it would help bring the event back to prominence.
Market the Hell out of It
I want to provide the BBN with a calendar of events for the Kentucky Derby Festival but that does not exist. I’m no marketing expert, but allow me to provide some free PR — let people know what in the hell is going on.
For Louisvillians that love the Derby Festival and treat it like a month-long holiday, we know when things are happening. The Balloon Race and Mini-Marathon are on the Saturday before Derby, Thunder is two Saturdays before the race and the Pegasus Parade is the Thursday before Derby. However, that’s not common knowledge. If you want to know when and where things are happening you have to go to KDF.org, and that’s if you want to know. You shouldn’t have to want to know, it should be information that’s flying in your face.
Have you ever heard of the Bed Races? It’s an underrated, hilarious event. Teams of five craft crazy beds, put them on wheels and drag race. It’s entertainment for just about every demographic, but I’m sure most of you have never heard of it. I went as a kid at the old Louisville Speedway, but didn’t know that it was now at Broadbent Arena on the Monday of Derby Week.
The bottom line — if people don’t know, people can’t go. If they need any help, Kentucky Sports Radio isn’t a bad place to spread the word.