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Great Steamboat Race to feature new competitor and local Black-owned bourbon

The Belle of Louisville will defend it's bragging rights over the Ohio River at the Great Steamboat Race scheduled for May 4.
The Belle of Louisville will defend it's bragging rights over the Ohio River at the Great Steamboat Race scheduled for May 4.

In the leadup to the Kentucky Derby, there are several races that take place before the Run for the Roses. One of them is the Great Steamboat Race. 

This year’s race will feature some new additions, on board and in the water.

Along with the perennial contenders — the Belle of Louisville and Belle of Cincinnati — the crew of the American Countess will race for bragging rights and possession of the silver antlers. 

This isn’t the first time the American Steamboat Company, which owns the Countess, has joined the fray. In years past, the company has entered the American Queen and American Duchess.

The steamboat race has been a staple of the Kentucky Derby Festival since 1963. 

Belle of Louisville Captain Mark Doty shared his plan to keep the silver antlers in Louisville’s possession, after the home crew’s victory last year. 

“My strategy is just to outwit Captain Bernstein [of Cincinnati] and his shenanigans, cause I never know what they are, I never know when they’re gonna happen, just gotta be prepared for them,” Doty said.

The American Duchess won’t be the only new addition to the steamboat race experience.

Kentucky Derby Festival CEO and President Matt Gibson said onboard spectators will be able to order drinks from the state’s first Black-owned bourbon distillery, Brough Brothers. The Louisville-based company was started by three brothers in 2012: Christian, Victor and Bryson Yarbrough. They started making bourbon to sell in 2020.

“We’re very pleased and ecstatic to be a part of this historic race,” Victor Yarbrough said. “We grew up watching this event. Coming from the West End of Louisville, being able to see this, actually being able to participate as an official sponsor is really a special, full circle for us.”

Yarbrough facilitated a taste test Tuesday morning at a press conference, where  Gibson, Doty and people representing other Great Steamboat Race sponsors voted on which of the distillery’s bourbons would be served on race day.

When it came down to a tiebreaker, Yarbrough went with what he said was the most fitting option: The Belle of Louisville Bourbon.

“It’s a light, fruity, apple-pear note tone, so a floral, rose aroma to it,” Yarbrough said. “If you like bourbon, you’ll enjoy it and if you don’t like bourbon, you’ll enjoy it, because it’s a great intro to bourbon.”

He said that he and his family are excited to be able to represent the city in this way.

“This is the fruition of a lot of hard work,” Yarbrough said.

The Belle of Louisville will defend its Great Steamboat Race win on May 4. 

Breya Jones is the Arts & Culture Reporter for LPM. Email Breya at bjones@lpm.org.

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