LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- An annual tradition during the Kentucky Derby Festival took to the Ohio River in front of thousands of spectators Wednesday night.

The Great Steamboat Race launched at 6 p.m. as the Belle of Louisville had two contenders this year: the Belle of Cincinnati and a new boat, American Duchess.

Hundreds of people waited in line to get on the three boats for the 14-mile, two-hour race up the Ohio River and back to the Second Street Bridge. For many, it was the first time they experienced the race on the boat.

“We would sit on the bank on Zorn Avenue and watch it go by, and now I am on the boat!” said Country Music Artist J.D. Shelburne, who performed on the festival stage after the race.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said he had complete confidence in the Belle of Louisville to take the win.

“We must win. We’ve been cheated the past couple years, so it is very important that the Belle wins this year," Fischer joked. "And I’m going to do everything in my vast powers to make sure this happens."

Farther up the river, some people decided to watch the race from the comfort of their own boats docked along the bank.

“It’s a great avenue to sit here without any crowds, and we can see who is going to win from right here,” said Karen Kraft Burris, who was boating with her husband and friends. “It’s history. It’s a family tradition. Something you grew up with and you just want to go see.”

Next to the Great Lawn, hundreds of people attended the Fest-a-ville’s “Beerfest,” which featured beer tastings from dozens of local craft beers. At the Belvedere, more than 100 wines were poured for the 14th annual “WineFest.”

The festivities continue Thursday with the annual Pegasus Parade down Broadway. The parade begins at 5 p.m. from Campbell to Ninth Street.

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