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Kentucky Derby History - A History of the Kentucky Derby

Kentucky Derby History

The 2014 Kentucky Derby

Tickets Kentucky Derby Event Guide Derby Winners Derby History Derby Traditions


The Kentucky Derby is one of the most famed horse races in the world. Aptly named "The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports" for its approximate duration, the race is a Grade I stakes race like no other. Visitors flock to Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky on the first Saturday in May to watch thoroughbred horses compete along 1 and ¼ miles of racetrack. Mint Juleps and elegant hats line the raceway as fans enjoy themselves and stay cool on race day. The race is the first leg of the United States Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing, followed by the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes.

Kentucky has been a major center of horse breeding and racing, tracing its traditions back to the late 18th century. Ever since it was settled, the Bluegrass Region has been noted for its ability to produce superior race horses. Louisville's premier racetrack, Churchill Downs, was founded by Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr., grandson of William Clark of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Clark organized the Louisville Jockey Club to raise money to build quality racing facilities outside the city. Churchill Downs was the name of the racetrack Clark built, and its name was officially incorporated in 1937.

The first Kentucky Derby race was run at 1.5 miles, the same distance as the Grand Prix de Paris. In 1896, the distance was changed to 1.25 miles, and is currently raced at this distance. The first race was held on May 17, 1875 in front of a crowd of 10,000 people. Fifteen horses competed in the inaugural race, and the first winner was horse Aristides and his rider, Oliver Lewis. Derby participants are limited to three-year-old horses, and no horse since Apollo in 1882 has won the Derby without racing at age two.

The Kentucky Derby is host to some of the longest standing racetrack traditions in the U.S. Each year, you will find fans sipping Mint Juleps (drink made from whiskey, mint and sugar) and eating burgoo (a meat stew) at the racetrack. Women appear in lavish outfits with big, elegant hats. The University of Louisville marching band plays Stephen Foster’s "My Old Kentucky Home" as the horses are paraded before the grandstands.

The Derby is sometimes referred to as "The Run for the Roses," as a blanket of 554 roses is awarded to the Derby winner each year. This tradition is thought to have started when New York socialite E. Berry Wall presented roses to ladies at a post-Derby party in 1883 that was attended by Churchill Downs founder, Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr.

The fastest time ever run in the Kentucky Derby was set in 1973 when Secretariat clocked-in at 1:59:40. The most wins achieved by a single jockey is five, and jockeys Eddie Arcaro and Bill Hartack are tied for the record. Ben A. Jones holds the record for most wins by a trainer, and Calumet Farm holds the record for most wins by an owner.

In 2006, the Louisville-based fast food company Yum! Brands announced a sponsorship deal to name the race "The Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands". The 2006 Kentucky Derby was won by Barbaro, with jockey Edgar Prado aboard. The race was attended by 157,536 fans, the second-largest crowd in Kentucky Derby history. Big Brown, with jockey Kent Desormeaux, won the 2008 Kentucky Derby.

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4/20/2014 12:39:11 AM on TCWEB1