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Starting at Kentucky
Starting at Kentucky
Tracking down some moonshine
On the ranch

US Drive Part I

Thursday, April 29, 2004
Ben is in the Deep South on a driving adventure on a quest for hillbillies and moonshine.

Mention of Kentucky conjures up images of thoroughbred racehorses, blue grass, banjos and moonshine. To see if this is how it really is, Ben Dark and his crew went to Lexington, the largest city in Kentucky, known as the Blue Grass State.

To begin with, the grass isn't really blue. Its buds give a bluish-purple hue when growing in fields of rich limestone, so when pioneers began asking for seed of the Kentucky blue grass, the name stuck.

The Commonwealth of Kentucky is bounded to the west, north and east by the Mississippi, Ohio and Big Sandy Rivers and shares a border with Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Missouri and Illinois. It has more kilometres of running water than any other US state except Alaska.

In 1861, the state was torn apart by the Civil War. While officially a neutral state, brother fought against brother, with the state supplying 100,000 troops to the North and 40,000 to the South.

Kentucky has been the birthplace of many famous people, among them Daniel Boone, Kit Carson, James Bowie and Judge Roy Bean, the hanging judge. The United States' 16th president Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin in Kentucky. Adlai Stevenson, Casey Jones, Hunter S Thompson, the Everly Brothers, Diane Sawyer, Naomi, Wynona and Ashley Judd, Rosemary and George Clooney and Cassius Clay (who became Muhammad Ali) are all natives of Kentucky.

The great racehorse Man o' War was bred here, Mother's Day began here in 1887, cheeseburgers and Kentucky Fried Chicken had their beginnings here and sisters Mildred J Hill and Patty Smith Hill wrote 'Happy Birthday To You' here in 1893. Little did they know it would be up there with 'Auld Lang Syne' and 'For He's a Jolly Good Fellow' as the three most-sung songs in the English language!

The United States' Bullion Depository was established in 1936 and holds $6 billion in gold. So well-known is it that Fort Knox is used in everyday language to mean something very secure or very valuable.

The Appalachian Mountains, compared to most ranges in the world, are fairly undistinguished, but do provide attractive scenery. They are low and gentle, covering an almost unbroken area over 2500km long and in places, more than 300km wide. They are the only significant topography in the east of North America, a vast, otherwise flat expanse. Despite large areas being little more than hills, some sections offer a base-to-summit rise and ruggedness to challenge the Rockies.

With minor exceptions they are covered in dark, evergreen forest of spruce and fir, with birch, white oak, sugar maple, white ash, hickory and beech predominant towards the south.

The mountains are rich in coal and hold iron, petroleum and natural gas reserves. Scenic areas abound in resorts and recreation areas which are popular year round.

The archetypal hillbilly may be dying out, but Ben spent some time with Charlie Beach III, the mayor of an Appalachian foothills town. While the renowned Kentucky moonshine isn't freely available, a sample was found, but seemed to lack any smoothness. One which was tasted later was much smoother, thanks to sweet, local apples used in its production.

Twenty kilometres outside Lexington is the world's greatest racehorse-breeding territory. On the first Saturday of every May, there is no place on earth like Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, where America's best three-year-old thoroughbreds convene to run the world's best-known horserace. It began with a win by Aristides in 1875 and has been run every year since.

Meriwether Lewis Clark Jnr built Churchill Downs with the desire to have a track to rival England's Epson and established the Kentucky Derby.

Former Governor Brereton C Jones began the Airdrie Stud, which is over 1000 hectares, in 1972 and since then more than 100 stakes winners have been bred there, earning in excess of $60,000,000.

Tim Thorburn, who manages the day-to-day operations of Airdrie, was born in Bourbon County, Kentucky, and has some pretty valuable creatures in his care. Storm Cat, Kentucky's current leading horse, stands for $US500,000 and services 150 mares a season. That means he earns $US75 million (more than $100 million Australian dollars).

With that thought, Ben did a good deal on an immaculate Buick Riviera and hit the road south to Tennessee.


Kentucky in the south of the US


Qantas flies daily to Los Angeles, with connections to Louisville, Kentucky, operated by American Airlines. Return economy airfares to Kentucky start at $3129 from Sydney, $3213 from Melbourne and Brisbane, $3509 from Adelaide, $4032 from Perth and $3884 from Darwin, per person. Prices include charges/taxes and are current at time of writing but may vary at time of booking. Seasonal surcharges and conditions apply.

More information

Airdrie Stud
PO Box 487
Midway Kentucky 40347
Ph: 859 873 7270
Fax: 859 873 6140

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