Gallery: A rookie wins the Great Steamboat Race

The damn new, we mean brand-new, American Duchess starts to pull ahead for the win. | Photo by Sara Havens

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

On a warm Wednesday evening, those aboard the Belle of Louisville watched in utter disbelief as newcomer American Duchess zipped past the Louisville darling for its first-ever victory in the Kentucky Derby Festival’s Great Steamboat Race.

Luckily, the Four Roses bourbon was flowing, so a shameful loss didn’t sting has hard as it should have.

The Belle also was passed by the Belle of Cincinnati, finishing a solid third in a three-boat, 14-mile drag race down the Ohio River and back.

Sour grapes aside, we would like to point out that both of the boats that finished ahead of the beloved Belle have diesel engines, while the Belle simply relies on steam, a paddle wheel that isn’t just for show and a lot of luck. Perhaps that’s why there’s an open bar and a better atmosphere aboard.

Someone throw the Belle a life-preserver! | Photo by Sara Havens

Somehow, even the captain of the Belle of Cincinnati, Alan Bernstein, ended up on the American Duchess, although he claims he was taken against his will.

“We’re not sure what happened,” said Mayor Greg Fischer in a news release. “The Belle of Louisville will always be No. 1 to us.”

It’s also fishy that the American Duchess is a brand spankin’ new vessel, built by the American Queen Steamboat Company. Of course, something new is going to have speed on its side.

“I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate my 40th year on the river,” said American Duchess Captain Randy Kirschbaum in the release. “It was great to see the city and show off the new boat. I hope to be back next year to defend the title.”

We’ll see about that.

Below are some photos from Insider reporters who were situated on both Belles.