When you think of the Kentucky Derby, you think of Churchill Downs and Louisville. But what about French Lick West Baden, Indiana? Louisville may be home to the Kentucky Derby, but French Lick plays a historic role, too.


The Forgotten Rails

French Lick West Baden’s storied history with the Kentucky Derby dates back to the golden age of travel when the train to French Lick was filled with a veritable Who’s Who from Chicago, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and other surrounding cities. These elite passengers would be delivered straight to the French Lick Springs Hotel’s front door where, during Derby weekend, they would enjoy their evening, then board a dedicated Derby train to Louisville in the morning to experience the most exciting two minutes in sports. 


After the Run for the Roses, the Derby train would return the spectators to French Lick where the celebration (or commiseration depending on your wagers) continued into the night. Some visitors might head home the next day, others would stay to indulge in the well-known mineral waters. Fast forward to 2024 and the Derby train may be a distant memory, but French Lick and West Baden still offer a flair for Derby pageantry.


A Champion’s Dinner

No Derby lover’s visit to French Lick West Baden is complete without a stop at 1875: The Steakhouse. Named after the year of the first Kentucky Derby, 1875 offers mint juleps and fine dining as well as a brief history lesson on all Derby winners. Aristides, the first ever Kentucky Derby winning horse, greets you as you walk through the doors. The remaining 148 winners are pictured on the walls throughout the restaurant, including 1907 winner Pink Star (actually a mule), 1945 winner Hoop Jr. (with ties to Al Capone), and 1973 winner Secretariat (who went on to win the Triple Crown).


Explore the Heritage

Take a deeper dive into Derby history at the French Lick West Baden Museum. Here you’ll find rare pieces of Derby memorabilia, including the Derby train departure sign that lived in the French Lick Springs Hotel lobby. French Lick Resort is also home to a collection of memorabilia that includes trophies honoring each year’s winning horse, aluminum tumblers the hotel gifted to guests during their Derby weekend stay, and more.


Place Your Bets

What’s Derby Day without a friendly wager or two? French Lick Casino’s sportsbook is the place to lay down those wagers on favorites and underdogs. Once you’ve placed your bet, you can watch the most exciting two minutes in sports unfold in the viewing lounge, complete with wall-to-wall TV screens and club chairs.


An Old Tradition Made New Again

It may not be Churchill Downs, but French Lick West Baden offers an equally immersive setting to celebrate the Kentucky Derby. Mark your calendar for the first Saturday in May and celebrate the history and excitement of the 150th Run for the Roses a little closer to home.