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Issue 19 - Racing horses and drinking bourbon

Whisky Magazine Issue 19
November 2001


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Racing horses and drinking bourbon

Ken Hoskins visits Churchill Downs racetrack in Kentucky in an attempt to understand the people of Kentucky's keen taste for horse racing, bourbon and the Mint Julep

It isn't difficult to imagine that the two products for which Kentucky has become world famous just might have arrived on the American frontier together, literally – whiskey stills on horseback.

Well maybe it didn't happen quite like that, but there's no question the Virginia horses that would become the foundation of Kentucky's great thoroughbred industry and the whiskey distilling Scotch-Irish of Pennsylvania all showed up in the late 1700s to claim the Bluegrass region as their own. After all, the same sweet limestone spring water that makes great bourbon whiskey also is said to make for strong bones. And the soil that gives Kentucky its trademark pastures of ‘blue' grass also produces the plentiful corn that settlers adopted to turn their European-style rye whiskies into bourbon (of course, they added the charred oak barrel, too).

So bourbon whiskey and thoroughbreds have always shared a common history dating to Kentucky's earliest days. Since 1875, however, there has been one day every year when this co-mingled history and symbiotic relationship have come together most dramatically (save for Prohibition from 1920 to 1933). That's the first Saturday in May at Louisville's famed Churchill Downs race track, where the finest three-year-old thoroughbreds in the world compete for the sport's most prestigious title and the 100,000-plus spectators guzzle Mint Julep whiskey cocktails by the thousands of gallons.

The 127th Run for the Roses this year was no exception. C...

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