The Derby Festival made some significant changes to the format of the Great Steamboat Race in 2009, including the addition of the Belle of Cincinnati as the opponent for the hometown vessel, the Belle of Louisville. The Belle of Cincinnati replaced longtime rival, the Delta Queen, in this racing tradition on the Ohio River. (The Delta Queen is operating as a floating hotel on the Tennessee River at Chattanooga.) Now, instead of the event winner being determined by the first boat to cross the finish line at the Clark Memorial Bridge, the winner of the event is the vessel that accumulates the most points from performing a series of five tasks assigned to each competitor throughout the day and during the race. One of the tasks is a Calliope Contest between the two Belles; other tasks are performed by the boat crews on-board, as well as onshore.
According to Derby Festival President and CEO Mike Berry, the changes to the event were made to "add a new level of excitement and anticipation to one of the Derby Festival's oldest events. The captains and crews of both boats are looking forward to ushering in a new era of riverboat racing on the Ohio River. We hope to attract a new generation of boat race enthusiasts by offering reduced-price passenger tickets for the Belle of Cincinnati."
Each boat is assigned two judges, in addition to an overall event judge from the Derby Festival. The winner of the event will be awarded a set of silver-plated antlers to replace the traditional gilded antlers that were presented to the winner in the past. The Awards Ceremony will take place immediately following the race at the Chow Wagon in Kroger's Fest-a-Ville on the Waterfront. Tickets for the Belle of Louisville (while still available) cost $130 and include food and drinks; Belle of Cincinnati tickets cost $75 (includes dinner). Passenger tickets for both boats may be purchased by calling (502) 584-FEST.
The Belle of Cincinnati will be competing in the Derby Festival's Great Steamboat Race for the seventh time - she had previously participated in four consecutive years, beginning in 2002.The Great Steamboat Race was first held in 1963, with the Delta Queen capturing the inaugural contest on the Ohio River. The race series between the two historic vessels ended in 2008 with the hometown Belle of Louisville finishing with an overall record of 22 wins versus the Delta Queen's 20 victories. The race was cancelled once in 1967 and rescheduled in 1966, 1983 and 2011 due to high water. Three other boats have won the event - the Julia Belle Swain in 1976, the Natchez in 1982 and the Spirit of Jefferson in 1999.
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