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Great Steamboat Race

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Title: Great Steamboat Race  
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Subject: Kentucky Derby, Six Mile Island State Nature Preserve, Big Four Bridge, List of steam fairs, Louisville, Kentucky
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Great Steamboat Race

The 2007 Race, as seen from Duffy's Landing in Jeffersonville, Indiana

The Great Steamboat Race is an annual event, taking place the Wednesday before the first Saturday of May, three days before the Kentucky Derby, as part of the Kentucky Derby Festival. The race was first run in 1963 and it takes place on the Ohio River in the span that runs between Louisville, Kentucky and Jeffersonville, Indiana. Until 2009, the race was traditionally between the Belle of Louisville and the Delta Queen, although other steamboats have participated. Since 2009, the Delta Queen has been retired and the Belle of Cincinnati has taken its place in the competition.[1] In 2012, the Belle of Louisville and Belle of Cincinnati were joined in the race by the American Queen.[2]


The race is scheduled annually as part of the Kentucky Derby Festival. The event pits at least two riverboats against each other in the span of the Ohio River that runs between Louisville, Kentucky and Jeffersonville, Indiana. Spectators can watch the event from the shore or aboard a competing vessel.[3][4]


The race began underneath the Six Mile Island, where they turned around to return to the bridge. The distance is 14 miles, with boats averaging a speed of 7 miles per hour (11 km/h). The competitors were traditionally the Belle of Louisville and the Delta Queen, although other additional or substitutionary vessels occasionally competed. The annual winner received the Golden Antlers, which would remain with the winner until the next race.


2008 was the last year to feature the Delta Queen as a competitor prior to it being renovated into a dry-dock hotel; the Belle of Cincinnati has subsequently entered the races in the Queen '​s stead. In 2009, the event organizers changed the format prompting the Belle of Cincinnati '​s Capt. Kerry Snowden to note that "[t]here are no rules in riverboat racing, so whatever goes, goes". The new format features a series of tasks that the crews must perform for points prior to the race.[1][5] Because the Cincinnati is a diesel ship with more power, it is required to travel further to Harrods Creek.[6] The boat with the most points after the race is determined to be the winner and is presented with the Silver Antlers, which take the place of the Golden Antlers that were retired when the Queen stopped competing.[5]

The 2012 race featured, for the first time since 2008, once again two steam-powered boats as competitors, as well as the diesel-powered Belle of Cincinnati. The American Queen, returned to overnight steamboat service in April 2012, competed in the three-way race on May 2, 2012 and finished as second.


The first Great Steamboat Race was held in 1963 between the Belle of Louisville and the Delta Queen, establishing the traditional rivalry until 2008 when the Queen was retired. The Queen won the first race. As of the Delta Queen '​s last race in 2008, the Louisville won 22 races compared to the Queen '​s 20 wins. The Louisville's winning record compared to the Queen '​s larger size and more powerful engines has helped fuel the unproven speculation that the race is predetermined.[7]

Other competitors

Several other riverboats have participated in the race:

  • Julia Belle Swain competed in 1975 and 1976, the latter of which it won.
  • Natchez IX of the New Orleans Steamboat Company in 1982, which it won.
  • Spirit of Jefferson raced in 1999 in the Louisville '​s stead while the Louisville was recovering from sabotage. It is diesel-powered and has been used as an observation boat for the race.
  • Belle of Cincinnati was a contestant in 2002, and followed as an observation boat in latter years. Since 2009, it has replaced the Delta Queen as the annual competitor. It is diesel-powered and has also been used as an observation boat for the race.
  • American Queen competed for the first time in 2012, in a 3-way race with the Louisville and Cincinnati, finishing 2nd.

Popular viewing areas for the race are the old Water Tower in Louisville, and along Utica Pike in Jeffersonville, especially near Duffy's Landing.


Competitors start to arrive at the start point of the 2007 Race
Spectators of the 2007 Race at Duffy's Landing in Jeffersonville, Indiana.
The Belle of Cincinnati follows the competitors in 2007
The Delta Queen at the start of the 2008 race.
Year Winner Notes
1963 Delta Queen
1964 Belle of Louisville
1965 Delta Queen
1966 Delta Queen
1967 N/A High water led to race cancellation.
1968 Delta Queen
1969 Belle of Louisville
1970 Belle of Louisville
1971 Belle of Louisville
1972 Belle of Louisville
1973 Delta Queen
1974 Delta Queen
1975 Belle of Louisville
1976 Julia Belle Swain
1977 Delta Queen
1978 Delta Queen
1979 Belle of Louisville
1980 Belle of Louisville
1981 Belle of Louisville
1982 Natchez-New Orleans Three-boat race
1983 Belle of Louisville
1984 Delta Queen Belle of Louisville received a bomb threat and had to pull into Cox's Park, evacuating 613 passengers.[8]
1985 Delta Queen
1986 Delta Queen
1987 Belle of Louisville
1988 Belle of Louisville
1989 Delta Queen
1990 Delta Queen
1991 Belle of Louisville
1992 Delta Queen
1993 Belle of Louisville
1994 Delta Queen
1995 Belle of Louisville
1996 Belle of Louisville Race shortened due to high water levels on the Ohio.[9]
1997 Delta Queen
1998 Belle of Louisville
1999 Spirit of Jefferson
2000 Belle of Louisville
2001 Delta Queen
2002 Belle of Louisville Belle of Cincinnati "initially won", but was disqualified when "it was found out" that it was diesel powered, and thus not a steamboat.
2003 Delta Queen three boat race
2004 Belle of Louisville
2005 Belle of Louisville Delta Queen was unable to come to Louisville due to high water levels on the Ohio.[10]
2006 Delta Queen
2007 Belle of Louisville The Delta Queen arrived at the finish line ahead of the Belle by 1.5 boatlengths, but because the Queen turned before it got to its turnaround buoy, the Belle was given the victory.[11]
2008 Delta Queen The Belle of Louisville arrived at the finish line ahead of the Delta Queen, but because the Belle turned before it got to its turnaround buoy, the Queen was given the victory. 3 Boat Race.[12]
2009 Belle of Louisville Belle of Cincinnati replaced Delta Queen, which has been retired.[1]
2010 Belle of Cincinnati[6][13] Score: 60 - 99
2011 Belle of Louisville High waters on the The Ohio River forced the race to be postponed to June 29, 2011. The Belle of Cincinnati was renamed The Belle of Kentucky, and, accordingly, she flew a Kentucky Wildcats banner covering "Belle of Cincinnati", adding a UofL/UK rivalry flavor to the race (seeing as the owners of The Belle of Cincinnati are UK fans) as a means to increase interest in the event being held outside the traditional time of year, The Kentucky Derby Festival.
2012 Belle of Louisville[14] three boat race including the American Queen
2013 Belle of Cincinnati[15]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Lampert, Hailee. "Great Steamboat Race Tonight - Sports News Story - WLKY Louisville". Retrieved 2010-05-03. 
  2. ^ "Rules, scoring announced for Great Steamboat Race". The Courier-Journal. Retrieved 2012-05-01. 
  3. ^ "Kentucky Derby Festival". 2010-04-28. Retrieved 2010-05-03. 
  4. ^ "Great Steamboat Race details released - WAVE 3 - Louisville, KY". WAVE 3. Retrieved 2010-05-03. 
  5. ^ a b "Great Steamboat Race details announced - Louisville News Kentucky Indiana News Weather Sports". 2010-04-12. Retrieved 2010-05-03. 
  6. ^ a b "Belle of Cincinnati prevails in Great Steamboat Race |". The Courier-Journal. 2010-04-28. Retrieved 2010-05-03. 
  7. ^ Kentucky Curiosities, by Vince Staten, pg 8.
  8. ^ BOMB THREAT SCUTTLES DERBY STEAMBOAT RACE '​'Lexington Herald-Leader May 3, 1984 B1
  9. ^
  10. ^ POSTED: 12:38 pm EDT May 5, 2005. "Belle Of Louisville Wins Great Steamboat Race - Sports News Story - WLKY Louisville". Retrieved 2010-05-03. 
  11. ^ "Derby Fun Blog 2007". Retrieved 2010-05-03. 
  12. ^ POSTED: 6:24 pm EDT April 30, 2008. "Delta Queen Wins Great Steamboat Race - Sports News Story - WLKY Louisville". Retrieved 2010-05-03. 
  13. ^ "Belle of Cincinnati wins Great Steamboat Race - Louisville News Kentucky Indiana News Weather Sports". 2010-04-28. Retrieved 2010-05-03. 
  14. ^ "Belle of Louisville wins 50th anniversary Great Steamboat Race". 2012-05-02. Retrieved 2012-10-02. 
  15. ^ "Full steam ahead: Belle of Cincinnati wins Great Steamboat Race". 2013-05-01. Retrieved 2013-05-02. 

External links

  • May 2 WHAS11 article 2007 results as well as details of judges decision
  • Official Site There is also an additional Official History page
  • Brightcove review of the race Done by Curious Travelers
  • May 1, 2007 Courier-Journal article Features a map of the race.
  • Directory of steamboats/riverboats in the U.S. and Europe
  • Web siteAmerican Queen
  • Web siteBelle of Louisville
  • Belle of Cincinnati Web site
  • Web siteDelta Queen
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