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Three Ways to Improve the Kentucky Derby Festival

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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.

Article written by Nick Roush

"Look upon the doughnut, and not upon the hole." @RoushKSR

5 Comments for Three Ways to Improve the Kentucky Derby Festival



  1. The Original WTF Guy
    11:08 pm April 16, 2016 Permalink

    I’ve always thought Roush was the worst part of the “new” KSR and here is that last piece of evidence necessary to prove that. This is an event held in IN* so why should those of us from KY care? And it’s no where near the “most wonderful time of the year.” For most right-thinking Kentuckians that is the time from when the fist ball is tossed up in Rupp in November until the final putt drops in Augusta. Derby Day is pretty awesome, but only if you can ignore that it is held in southern IN*. The four weeks preceding which include the NCAA title weekend, The Masters, and Keeneland crushes derby time.

    *I refuse to consider Louisville as part of my Kentucky. Let IN have a place that brought the country Mitch McConnell.



    • bluetide
      11:34 am April 18, 2016 Permalink

      You are absolutely the WORST. How dare you call us Hoosiers you idiot?!?? I am from Glasgow, KY and proud of it, and now I have lived in Louisville for 5 years and love it now too. I am a PROUD KENTUCKIAN THROUGH AND THROUGH AND LOUISVILLE, KY IS ABSOLUTELY IN KENTUCKY AND ABSOLUTELY SHINES IT!!!!!!

      WE KENTUCKIANS IN LOUISVILLE HATE INDIANA MORE THAN ANY OTHER KENTUCKIAN I GUARANTEE YOU.

      And here is another little fact you need to consider: LOUISVILLE HAS MORE KENTUCKY WILDCAT FANS THAN ANY OTHER CITY IN KENTUCKY INCLUDING LEXINGTON!

      SO BACK OFF!!!!!!!!!!! You are a disgrace to Kentuckians everywhere with your inexcusable behavior.



    • bluetide
      11:36 am April 18, 2016 Permalink

      You need to get OUT of our beloved state ASAP.

      Southern IN?! You freaking tool! You ar despicable!



  2. 25OR624
    8:27 am April 17, 2016 Permalink

    http://discover.kdf.org/contact-information/

    Contact Us
    Contact Info

    Kentucky Derby Festival
    1001 South Third Street
    Louisville, KY 40203
    Phone: (800) 928-3378
    Fax: (502) 589-4674

    For Marathon/miniMarathon related information email us.

    By Phone

    General Festival Information
    Toll-Free (800) 928-3378
    (502) 584-3378 (FEST)

    Tickets

    (502) 572-3857

    Media Inquiries

    (502) 572-3819

    Facebook
    Kentucky Derby Festival
    Derby Festival Marathon/miniMarathon
    Thunder Over Louisville

    Twitter
    Kentucky Derby Festival — @KYDerbyFestival
    Derby Festival Marathon/miniMarathon — @KDFMarathon

    Instagram
    Kentucky Derby Festival — @KYDerbyFestival



  3. catdaddyd
    9:34 pm April 17, 2016 Permalink

    Nice read. I think the chow wagon needs a lot of help. More than one, maybe one in southern Indiana on the river, one in the east end, etc…