The Great Steamboat Race on the Ohio River has been a part of Kentucky Derby Festival since 1963 and has become one of the signature events, typically taking place on the Wednesday before the Kentucky Derby. In this event, our Louisville hometown vessel, The Belle of Louisville, takes on another steamboat in a head-to-head race down the Ohio River. Louisville residents and other enthusiastic onlookers line the banks of the Ohio River and Waterfront Park to watch the madness. Still others will buy a ticket and watch the race from aboard one of the two steamboats. Either way you do it, it’s just another way to get excited for the Kentucky Derby.
For many years the Belle of Louisville went up against the Delta Queen in the Great Steamboat Race. The Delta Queen actually won the first meeting in 1963. By the time the Delta Queen was retired (2008, I believe), the Belle of Louisville had won 22 races and the Delta Queen had won 20. Most recently the Belle of Cincinnati was added to the mix to take the place of the retired Delta Queen. Throughout the years there have been other different steamboats that had to be brought in for any number of reasons. The race was also cancelled once, and it has been postponed a number of times due to high water, including the 2011 race.
The Great Steamboat race changed its format quite a bit in 2007. Instead of a head-to-head race with the winner being the first to cross the finish line (the Clark Memorial Bridge), the event now includes a series of tasks that must be completed by the steamboat operator, the crew, and even the calliope player has a challenge. If you want to watch, there are plenty of places along the Ohio River to do so. If you want to be part of the Great Steamboat Race and actually be on one of the boats, you can buy tickets. To ride on the Belle of Louisville, tickets are $130 and they include food and drinks. If you wish to ride on the Belle of Cincinnati, tickets are $55 and they include dinner only, however If you want, you can pay $75 (instead of $55) and get a Four Roses Bourbon tasting with your dinner and steamboat cruise.
This event is part of the pride of Kentucky Derby Festival, and it’s a blast for all ages! See you Wednesday, May 1st, 2013!
- 4:30pm – 5:30pm Boarding
- 5:30pm Departure
- 6:00pm Race Begins