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Lexington, Kentucky
KENTUCKY DOWNS

6 Days, 5 Nights
SEPTEMBER 8 to SEPTEMBER 13, 2020

5 nights in Nashville
2 days of racing at Kentucky Downs
Historical and musical experiences in and around Nashville

 

Day 1
Tue  Sept 8
Arrive in Nashville. We'll meet you at the airport and deliver you to the Hermitage Hotel, our lodging in downtown Nashville. This transfer should take about 20 minutes. If you're driving to Nashville, we'll provide complimentary secured parking at the hotel garage for the duration of the trip.

Depending on the timing of individual arrivals, we're hoping to organize a mid-to-late-afternoon 30-minute orientation walk of the nearby neighborhoods, just to give you a sense of the geography and the vibrancy of this exciting city. We'll point out dining options and other places you might want to return to on your own.

At about 5:30PM we'll meet up for cocktails in the hotel bar to get better acquainted and organized for the rest of the week. We've set up nothing specific for the evening, but we'll make a group reservation on a no-host basis for those who want dinner company.

The Hermitage LobbyTHE HERMITAGE: Since its opening in 1910, the Hermitage has set the standard for luxury and elegance in Nashville. Like all American "grand dame" hotels, at least once it was in serious danger of being demolished. Thankfully active preservationists, concerned citizens, and politicians worked together to save it and the result is the magnificent property we have the pleasure of lodging in this week. They don't make them like this any more.

J.E.R. Carpenter, perhaps better known as the designer of numerous residential buildings on New York's Fifth and Park Avenues, was the architect and among his creations for the Hermitage are the stunning lobby, the grand staircase, and one of the most famous men's rooms in the western world (we'll tell you the story). Over the years The Hermitage has hosted eight presidents and such disparate luminaries as Babe Ruth, John Dillinger, Sgt Alvin York, Charlie Chaplin, Minnesota Fats, and musicians too numerous to list. We're in good company here.

The rooms are oversized and very comfortable and there are full-service spa facilities on the premises. The location could not be better -- in the heart of downtown and close to everything. You can learn more about the hotel at www.thehermitagehotel.com.

 
 
Day 2
Wed  Sept 9
This morning we'll begin with a short walk to one of Nashville's most renowned music settings: the famed Ryman Auditorium. If Nashville is "The Music City", the Ryman is its iconic performance venue.

Opened in 1892, it was originally designed as a place of worship and called the Union Gospel Tabernacle. It was renamed after his death for its founder Thomas Ryman. (Ryman was a Nashville saloon keeper who attended a tent revival intending to heckle the sermonizer. He was instead converted into a devout Christian and pledged to build a permanent hall.)

The RymanHeavily in construction debt, the building was from the start often let out to promoters for speakers, concerts, and even boxing matches. In 1904 pioneering business woman Lula Neff entered the picture, at first booking engagements on a part-time basis, then later full time, and eventually becoming general manager in 1920. Her skill at attracting performers and the Ryman's outstanding acoustics resulted in appearances in the early days by headliners such as Will Rogers, Harry Houdini, W.C. Fields, the John Phillip Sousa Band, and Enrico Caruso. It was given its first nickname: "The Carnegie Hall of the South".

The Auditorium reached legendary status during its time as the host site for the Grand Ole Opry, country music's signature weekly live performance and radio show. The Opry's run at the Ryman went on for 31 years, from 1943 to 1974, before moving out to the sprawling Opryland complex east of the city. Every single Opry show at the Ryman sold out and the list of major country artists who did not appear would be very short indeed. It earned its second nickname: "The Mother Church of Country Music".

We'll tour the Ryman and soak up its vibe and history. Then as a special treat, we'll make our own record, standing on the same boards as the Opry giants who performed here before us. We'll prepare a lyrics sheet and assign "parts" in advance and everyone who wants can participate. It'll make the perfect trip souvenir.

We'll have a break for lunch. Options in the neighborhood abound, but we might suggest having an old-fashioned mid-day meal at the local Woolworth's lunch counter. Aside from its sublime 50s decor, the counter here has historical significance as the site of one of the nation's first anti-segregation "sit-in" demonstrations.

Music-Player History at the Musicians'
The L.A.
After lunch our next stop will be at the Musicians Hall of Fame, again only a short walk from the hotel. People generally think of Nashville as a place for country music only, but all sorts of popular music has been recorded locally, and all types are represented at this splendid museum. Displays walk you through some of the most famous records ever made and an interactive section allows you to personally step inside the various aspects of record production. Unless you're an exclusive devotee of Country, we think the overall experience here is superior to the more famous and commercial Country Music Hall of Fame (which you can visit on your own).

The rest of the afternoon and evening are free for your own poking around. We'll organize a no-host group dinner if the demand is there. For live music sampling we recommend "The Stage" for country and the "Bourbon Street Blues & Boogie Bar" for a taste of New Orleans. Both are short walks from The Hermitage.

 
 
Day 3
Thur  Sept 10
This morning is free of organized activities, so you can relax a bit or do some more independent exploration of downtown Nashville. Just before noon we'll depart for the 45-minute ride north to our first day of racing.

Into the Backstretch at Kentucky DownsKentucky Downs is unique in America, being our only all-grass flat racing track. In the European style it is irregularly shaped and has up-and-down-hill gradients all the way around. It also features, along with Santa Anita's downhill run, the only other right turn in U.S. racing. The course is a 1 5/16 mile circuit with a tight first bend, a sweeping home turn, and a quarter-mile-plus finishing stretch.

The course appeals in other ways. In these days of increasingly short fields, Kentucky Downs has the highest average field size in North America at more than eleven per race, and this with a gate capacity of only twelve. From a betting standpoint, the blended takeout is the lowest in the nation and the average daily purse distribution is the highest.

The track was built in 1990 and was originally known as The Dueling Grounds. It took this name because the site, tucked into a small bulge in the otherwise perfectly straight state line, was for many years used for actual duels. Just as race betting today is illegal in Tennessee and O.K. in Kentucky, so it was with dueling back in the day. (As far as we know, dueling is illegal in both states now.)

Up the Hill at Kentucky DownsAt present, Kentucky Downs is considering a number of seating/hospitality options for the 2020 meet. For now we are slated to have reserved tables in the Finish Line Pavilion, adjacent to the track and hard by the saddling stalls and parade ring. If any superior facilities emerge from the plans we will relocate. In any case, a home-style buffet lunch will be included in our arrangements today.

We may miss the final races today in order to get back to Nashville in time for a freshening before our early evening undertaking -- a live performance at the Ryman Auditorium. At this time of the year,Thursday nights are the only night of the week when something like the Grand Ole Opry returns to the Ryman. The shows are billed as "Classic Country" and feature at least one established performer and promising newcomers. The Ryman's intimacy and amazing aural envelope make for, in our opinion, a far better experience than can be had out at the Disney-like complex of Opryland. We'll have good seats.

The show should let out about nine. For those game for more, we'll make a booking at the storied Skull's Rainbow Room reataurant and those that care to can join in on a no-host basis. This place has a dark, speakeasy-like ambiance and we were sold on it thirty seconds after walking in the door the first time. In its 72 years of operation Skull's has seen performances by the likes of Etta James, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, and Joni Mitchell. Tonight's entertainment is a bit more offbeat: a traditional burlesque review. We're not quite sure what to expect from the show, but it should be an adventure and the dining will be excellent.

 
 
Day 4
Fri  Sept 11
We head west this morning, but stay much closer to Nashville than we did yesterday. Our destination is Belle Meade, one of the loveliest suburban areas in all of the U.S., and locale for two stellar attractions: the Belle Meade Plantation House and the Cheekwood Estate.

The story of Belle Meade began in 1807 when Virginian John Harding bought a cabin and 250 acres on the Natchez Trace, a 400-plus-mile trail that was first an animal migration route and later used extensively by Native Americans. It runs from just west of Nashville to Natchez, Mississippi, and these days is a beautiful automobile parkway.

The Belle Meade Plantation HouseHarding developed the holding as a farm which he named Belle Meade ("beautiful meadow" in French) and his son William Giles Harding expanded the property to a size of 5,400 acres by the time of the Civil War. Post-war it became one of the leading Thoroughbred farms in the region, at a time when Tennessee rivaled Kentucky as a breeding headquarters. Famous stallions standing at Belle Meade included Iroquois, the first American-bred winner of the English Derby, and Bonnie Scotland -- whose name lives on today in the pedigrees of many American champions. Its own yearling sale offered high-quality stock and drew buyers from all over the East.

By the beginning of the 20th Century, Belle Meade had fallen on hard times and the property was sold to a development company. The main plantation house and 30 surrounding acres were set aside and a large part the remaining land was platted and ultimately turned into the beautiful residential area we see today. Before and after our visit to the Plantation House we'll cruise through some of the more fine avenues of the area. One of our brief stops will be at Percy Warner Park where we'll have a look at the Iroquois Steeplechase racecourse.

The House as it exists today is the inspiration of William Giles Harding, who in the 1840s expanded what had been a relatively modest country house into a Greek-Revival-style Mansion of three stories. The official architect is not known, though some maintain William Giles drew the plans himself. Among its main features are front-to-back high-ceiling central hallways on each floor which allow natural cooling by the prevailing breezes. Illustrating the sweep of its history is the still-visible bullet damage on the stone columns. On December 15, 1864 Union and Confederate troops fought on the front yard.

For lunch we're taking in another Nashville institution: The Loveless Cafe, which for nearly 70 years has been putting from-scratch Southern cooking on the table to rave reviews. The Loveless is located just at the northern terminus of the Natchez Trace Parkway, and time permitting we may drive a few miles in and get a taste.

Our final stop today will be at the Cheekwood Estate and Gardens.

The Japanese Garden at CheekwoodThe house here, a Georgian-style mansion of 30,000 square feet, was built by Leslie Cheek in the early 1930s. The Cheek family operated a large wholesale food company in Nashville and one of the cousins concocted a blend of coffee that later came to be known as Maxwell House. Leslie Cheek was an early investor. In 1928 the precursor of General Foods paid $40 million for the coffee concern, and shortly thereafter the Cheeks also sold the wholesale business. Ample funds generated, the Cheekwood property was acquired and the house built

Leslie Cheek was alive for only two years following the house's completion, but his widow and daughters resided there into the 1950s. The house and its 50 acres were acquired by a coalition of preservationists and opened as a museum in 1960.

Chihuly at CheekwoodThe building has architectural interest as a representative of its type, and it contains a large art collection. But the main attraction are the surrounding botanical gardens and the themed formal subsections of it. Also, at the time of our visit the gardens will be hosting a major exhibition by the renowned glass sculptor Dale Chihuly. A number of his large and small works will be scattered around the property and we think the visit will be well worth our while. For more information on the artist's work, go to www.chihuly.com.

You may prefer to be on your own tonight, but if not we'll offer another optional no-host dine-and-show experience at a spot with a high reputation as one of Nashville's best places to hear live music: The Listening Room. The atmosphere is relaxed, the food is non-fussy, and the setting personal. It features local artists primarily, most often doing their own originals, and giving background on the compositions as they go.

 
 
Day 5
Sat  Sept 12
Today is the big day of racing at Kentucky Downs. The card is headed by the million-dollar Kentucky Cup Turf over a mile and a half. The entire program is not set as yet, but if it tracks the 2019 event list, supporting features will include the Turf Sprint at six furlongs (a Breeders Cup win-and-you're-in race), the Ladies Turf for females over a mile, the Juvenile Turf Sprint, and the Ladies Sprint, the latter two over six and a half furlongs.

Turning for Home at Kentucky DownsThese four co-features all offered purses of at least a half million dollars in 2019, and the entire Kentucky Turf Cup card awarded prizes of nearly four million. Only Kentucky Derby Day at Churchill, Belmont and Travers Days in New York, and the two Breeders' Cup days at Santa Anita saw more money run for in one day in the U.S..

We'll have our same seating spots as Thursday and lunch will be included.

Tonight is our last evening together. We'll make a no-host booking for the group at one of Nashville's finest restaurants, and we hope everyone will want to join in. After, we can do some music crawling or head back to the hotel for a nightcap. Or both.

 
 
Day 6
Sun  Sept 13
Sad to say, the organized itinerary ends this morning following checkout from the hotel. We'll provide transportation to Nashville Airport and your flight home, or say goodbye to you at the hotel as the valet brings down your car if you've driven and parked.

Thank you for joining us and safe travels onward.

CLOSING DATE

This trip will close on June 1, 2020. Payment in full and all necessary completed paperwork must be received by us no later than this date to insure that you will be able to join the trip.

COME EARLY, STAY LATE:

This itinerary is designed to be full and busy. For those preferring a more leisurely experience, we invite you to consider coming earlier, staying later, or combining our arrangements with other travel.

We can provide parking or airport transfers for you to the Hermitage Hotel and back on whichever days you choose to arrive and leave. Additional nights at the hotel can be booked, either before or after our scheduled stay. The Hermitage has promised to accommodate extensions as best they can, but the space is not blocked or guaranteed. You should let us know as soon as possible if you wish to do this. Itís a very busy time of the year.

ITINERARY & PRICES:

The itinerary includes:

  • Five(5) nights lodging at the Hermitage Hotel in Nashville.
  • Two(2) escorted days of racing at Kentucky Downs, including transportation to and from the racecourse, course admission, race program, reserved table seating, and lunch on each day.
  • Visit to the Ryman Auditorium, including a recording session.
  • Visit to the Musicians Hall of Fame.
  • Evening performance at the Ryman Auditorium.
  • Visit to Belle Meade Plantation.
  • Visit to Cheekwood Estate.
  • Lunch on three(3) days: at Kentucky Downs September 10 and 12; at the Loveless Cafe September 11
  • Inbound transfer from Nashville airport to the Hermitage Hotel.
  • Outbound transfer from the Hermitage Hotel to Nashville airport.
  • Complimentary parking in the Hermitage Hotel garage in lieu of airport transfers.
  • Complimentary racing newspaper each racing day.
  • Welcome cocktails at the Hermitage Hotel.
  • Accompaniment throughout by a knowledgeable American escort.
The itinerary does not include:
  • Airfare to and from Nashville.
  • The cost of breakfast, lunch, or dinner except on days indicated.
The Cost of the Trip does not include:
  • Any charges incurred at hotel other than the basic cost of the room, including but not limited to room service, mini-bar, television or video, restaurant or bar service, laundry or dry-cleaning, business services, golf or other activities, and activities arranged through hotel concierge. (All group members will be required to provide a credit card imprint upon check-in at each hotel to guarantee payment for any individual charges.)
  • Excess baggage charges. Please check baggage limitations.
  • Travel insurance.
  • Alcoholic beverages, except at the "Welcome" cocktail hour.
  • Charges incurred for anything other than what is specified in the "Itinerary Includes" summary above.
  • Personal gratuities. As part of our arrangements we will tip our drivers and the hotel staff on behalf of the group. Group members should appropriately tip their incoming and outgoing transfer drivers and anyone who provides them with personal assistance, including special assistance by hotel staff. Please note your principal tour escort does not expect and will not accept a gratuity.
The Cost of the Trip Is:

    $2,775 per person, based on double occupancy (twelve or more travelers).
    $2,925 per person, based on double occupancy (ten or eleven travelers).
    $3,025 per person, based on double occupancy (eight or nine travelers).

    $1,245 single supplement regardless of group size

    *Please note we have not received final pricing for some elements of this trip, and the trip price is therefore subject to minor adjustment until we do.

    The estimated cost of the optional no-host dinners and shows described above are: at Skull's Rainbow Room approximately $100 per person; at The Listening Room approximately $50 per person. These estimated costs include taxes and tip, but not alcohol. Because we are unable to confirm reservations at these establishments until much closer to the time and we do not yet know the actual size of our group, our final arrangements for these dinners may need to be adjusted to different nights.

    We will attempt to match singles travelers wishing to double up and thereby avoid the Single Supplement, however it will always be the single travelerís decision whether or not to accept a roommate. Singles will be housed in the same class of large rooms as the double-occupancy travelers.

OPTIONS:

  • Additional Nights at the Hermitage Hotel, if available: Will vary according to nights selected. Please inquire with us.

GENERAL INFORMATION:

*This trip is designed for eight(8) to eighteen(18) people. We will make every effort to operate the trip, however we reserve the right to cancel the trip if it has less than eight(8) subscribers. Should we need to do this, all payments made to Racing-Europe toward the cost of the trip will be fully and promptly refunded.


 

Photos courtesy of The Hermitage Hotel, Maxonline, Lana H., The Musicians' Hall of Fame,
Kentucky Downs Racecourse, Lonely Planet, The Cheekwood Estate,  and The Smithsonian.


 

 
View the Itinerary for our other 2020 trip:

May (England), click here

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