Belle of Louisville wins 2022 Great Steamboat Race
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - The Belle of Louisville has once again taken home the 12-point Silver Antlers this year in the 60th running of the Kentucky Derby Festival Great Steamboat Race.
This year’s ceremony featured the hometown favorite Belle of Louisville racing against longtime rival Belle of Cincinnati, and 2022 newcomer, the American Countess.
Belle of Louisville Captain Mark Doty ordered the steamboat’s cannon to fire around 6 p.m. Wednesday, signaling the start of this year’s celebration.
The race kicked off along the Ohio River, starting and finishing a 14-mile course at the Clark Memorial Bridge.
Aboard the Belle of Louisville were hundreds of guests, including Cassandra and Kevin Woods. While Cassandra grew up going on the Belle of Louisville, her husband Kevin, from Maryland, is new to the fun.
“I’m excited about winning the race,” Kevin said.
For Cassandra, the 2022 experience is full of nostalgia, and she was glad to bring her husband along for the ride.
“When you’re a little kid growing up, everything is so big and massive,” Cassandra said. “Now that I’m a grown up, I don’t know, it’s just kind of cool.”
Another Louisville resident revisiting the Belle in style is Victor Yarbrough and his brothers, now owners of Brough Brothers Distillery. Their distillery’s product was announced as the official bourbon of the Belle of Louisville for the Great Steamboat Race.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity; it’s a wonderful feeling,” Yarbrough said. “To be on this historic race [as a] historic company, first African American-owned distillery in Kentucky, to have our bourbon on the historic Belle, it’s a dream come true.”
Kelsey and Jon Drake have been riding the Belle of Louisville, specifically for the Great Steamboat Race, for years. They even got engaged at the event years ago. Now, it’s a tradition.
“We run into a lot of people that we’ve met over the years,” Kelsey said.
“It’s really just a great Derby event for a local,” Jon said.
Kelsey and Jon could be mistaken for a Louisville version of Star Wars’ Princess Leia and Han Solo: they costumed themselves in honor of the date, May 4, or “May the Fourth Be with You.”
“I had to use it to our advantage,” Kelsey said.
For Martha Gibbs, the Belle is a tradition and also a job. She plays the calliope, the steam-powered whistle instrument that sits on the top deck.
“I love to make people happy and they’re like, ‘We love the calliope,’” Gibbs said.
Her most recent addition to her repertoire is “We Don’t Talk about Bruno,” the smash hit from the Disney film “Encanto.”
As the race neared its close, it became clear that the Belle of Louisville would reach the finish line last of the three boats, crossing under the Clark Memorial Bridge after both the Belle of Cincinnati and the American Countess. Yet when Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer presented the Silver Antlers at the award ceremony at Kroger’s Fest-a-Ville at the Waterfront Park, he delivered a surprise to the audience.
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After deliberation from the judges, boat captains and Derby Festival Officials, the Belle of Louisville was awarded the prize after being deemed the only authentic steamboat to cross the finish line.
“This race is called the Great Steamboat Race - steamboat,” Fischer said. The crowd cheered as Fischer announced that the Belle of Louisville had won on this technicality, despite having crossed the finish line third.
The Belle of Louisville won the KDF Great Steamboat Race last year, winning a total of 30 times since the race began in 1963.
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