LOUISVILLE — Trainer Bob Baffert told gathered media members Tuesday outside his barn that he will have to go to the Kentucky Derby Museum to believe his accomplishments as he chases a record sixth Derby victory Saturday.
If Improbable, Game Winner or Roadster are able to run to victory Saturday at Churchill Downs, Baffert will match the great Ben Jones, who won six Kentucky Derbys from 1938 through 1952. Jones has a presence at the Kentucky Derby Museum and the current version of the museum, which was rebuilt in 2010 following a 2009 flood, is filled with a variety of older artifacts mixed with modern exhibits.
On the second floor, a brand new wing is dedicated to four-time Derby-winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who held the record of 14 American Classics victories until Baffert won a second triple crown in the span of three years with Justify in 2018.
The tribute to Lukas — and a collection of more than 600 items related to jockey Bill Shoemaker — combine to feature the "the two largest and most significant collections in the museum," said Chris Goodlett, the curator of the Kentucky Derby Museum.
"We broke ground on this 11,000 square feet addition two weeks after Derby last year and finished in November," Goodlett said.
When walking into the Lukas wing, a video plays that includes Baffert talking about the legendary trainer.
A spectacular trophy case that takes up one entire wall includes some of Lukas' most prominent wins. The opposite wall in the room includes a timeline of a day in the life of a horse trainer.
"It's a 24/7 365-day job," Goodlett said. "Getting up at 3 a.m., going to training, doing that until 10 in the morning. If it's a race day, then all through the evening."
Lukas, still active in training at 83 years old, has had former assistants such as Todd Pletcher and Kieran McClaughlin go on to great careers.
The wing for Shoemaker is also immense. The jockey's career spanned from 1949 to 1990 and included 11 Triple-Crown victories among his 8,833.
"He was based in California and is the last celebrity jockey," Goodlett said. "He did ad campaigns with American Express. He was the subject of an Andy Warhol sports exhibit, one of 10 athletes profiled," Goodlett said, pointing to a replica of the Warhol work.
Another jockey recognized is three-time Derby winner Isaac Irving, an African American, may have the highest winning percentage of any jockey in history. Fifteen of the first 28 Derby-winning jockeys were African American.
The not-for-profit museum that is a partner of Churchill Downs covers history of all aspects of horse racing, going beyond trainers and jockeys. Included are tributes to farriers, who craft the horseshoes, and models of horse farms.
The entry to the exhibits, after walking through old starting stalls, greets visitors with a blast in Derby fashion, with wardrobes donated by celebrities.
"The Derby is a horse race but it's become this cultural event. It's more than the two minutes. We will joke that we have a museum dedicated to this two minutes. But it's really dedicated to that whole culture that really springs up around Derby time and all those other things," Goodlett said.
The Barnstable-Brown Party that takes place each year in the Highlands — this year's attendees include Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers — is also covered in this exhibit.
But the Derby hats that are world famous have been around since the Derby began in 1875 as an inspiration from the Epsom Derby — a 1 1/2 mile race on turf — in England.
"Basically, hats and fashion have been a part from the very beginning. There was actually a concerted effort by the Louisville Jockey Club to attract high society to the races in 1875 when we were founded, which included a clubhouse where you would come and wear your finest clothes, including your hats," Goodlett said. "That tradition from 1875 endures."
A Secretariat exhibit and a horse simulation game and video archives of Derby races are also located on the first floor in addition to a 4K movie exhibit that has a 360-degree screen.
"We say it's the next best thing to being at the Derby," Goodlett said. "What goes on at the Derby, not just the racing, is captured there as well. And each year we update with the stretch run of the current winner."