The Kentucky Derby is a horserace held annually in Louisville, Kentucky, on the first Saturday of May. The race is a Grade I stakes race that features three-year-old thoroughbred horses.
The race takes place at Churchill Downs and is often called “The Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports.” It’s the first leg of the American Triple Crown and is followed by the Preakness Stakes and then the Belmont Stakes. The Kentucky Derby is the biggest of them all, both is winnings and audience. It’s the Super Bowl of horse racing. But, why is it so special?
Where It All Began
In 1872, Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr. went to the Epson Derby in England. He loved the idea and realized that there was a gap in horse racing entertainment in the U.S. When he got back to the States, he started a racing club called the Louisville Jockey Club and raised enough money to build a permanent racetrack.
The track became known as Churchill Downs, named after John and Henry Churchill who provided the land for the racetrack.
The First Ever Kentucky Derby
At first, the Kentucky Derby was run at 1 1/12 miles, which is the same distance as the Epsom Derby. The distance changed in 1896 to its current 1 1/14 miles.
On May 17th, 1875, in front of an estimated crowd of around 10 thousand people, a field of 14 three-year-old horses contested the first Derby. A colt named Aristides, who was trained by future Hall of Famer Ansel Williamson, won the inaugural race that year.
It’s The Longest Running Sporting Event In U.S. History
The Kentucky Derby is the longest running sporting event in U.S. history. Over time, many traditions and nicknames emerged that the Derby has been holding onto. One of those is having the official flower of the race be a rose.
They first appeared in 1896 when winner Ben Brush was given a garland of them after his victory. In 1904, the red rose became the official flower of the Kentucky Derby. Years later, sports columnist nicknamed the race “Run for the Roses” which has stuck ever since.
The Rose Garland Is Quite The Sight
The rose garland that the victors are given now is quite incredible and stunning to look at. It’s made up of more than 400 roses sewn on green satin. It’s pretty heavy too, weighing in at an astounding 40 pounds with a rose “crown” in the center.
The crown points up which symbolizes the heart and struggle needed to reach the Kentucky Derby’s winners circle. The number of roses in the crown is determined by how many horses compete in the Derby.
The Day Before The Derby Features A Lesser-known Race
The day before the derby is the Kentucky Oaks. This was also founded by Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr. and is the premier race for three-year-old female horses, called fillies.
The first Oaks race took place in 1875, two days after the Derby. The winner also gets a garland, but instead of roses, they’re given lilies. The spectators who go to watch the Oaks are expected to wear pink in support of women’s health initiatives.
Its Architecture Is Iconic
The Twin Spires atop of the racetrack’s grandstand is legendary. As the Derby began to pick up traction and gain popularity, a new grandstand was constructed in 1894.
The man who constructed it, Joesph Dominic Baldez, thought it still needed something to make it unique. So, he added two hexagonal spires to the top and now people from around the world get to enjoy having their picture taken with the Twin Spires when they visit the Kentucky Derby.
The Fashion Is Legendary
The Kentucky Derby literally has its own fashion style. When Clark founded the Derby, he saw it as an event that society’s elite would like to attend. Just like the races he had gone to in Europe, he wanted his Derby to be full of well-dressed, high-class folks.
Eventually, the Derby became a place to showcase the latest spring fashion. In the 1960s, women started wearing big hats with less traditional outfits. It’s what the Derby is known for today.
The Infield Can Get Absolutely Wild
The infield viewing area is inside the track. What’s interesting is that you can be in the infield with general admission pricing tickets, but don’t expect to catch much of the race.
If you’re planning on going inside, you basically going to be getting rowdy with a handful of other revelers. Before the jumbotron was installed in 2014, you could only hear the race from the infield. Now you can at least watch it on the screen.
The Millionaires Row Naturally Costs A Fortune
By contrast to the infield, Millionaire’s Row refers to the extremely expensive box seats that attract all the rich and famous. The Louisville Airport sees an extreme influx in private jets landing in their airspace for the weekend.
The 2015 Kentucky Derby set a record with $194.3 million from total wagers on and off the track. The wealthy show up to bet and be entertained. One of the other traditions sees the University of Louisville Marching Band play Stephen Foster’s “My Old Kentucky Home,” a tradition that began in 1921.
The Live Audience Is Massive
The Kentucky Derby is considered to be the biggest race in the world. Millions of people from around the world bet at various live tracks and online sportsbooks. In 2017, a crowd of 158,070 watched the Derby, which made it the seventh biggest audience all the time.
The race has seen crowds as big as 170,000 and draws an incredible amount of celebrities. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II even join racegoers in 2007 while on a visit to the United States.
2004 Was The First Time Sponsors Were Allowed
The 2004 Derby marked the first time that jockeys were allowed to wear sponsorship brands on their jackets. Norman Adams has been the designer of the Kentucky Derby logo since 2002, and in 2006 it was announced that Kentucky fast food chain Yum! Brands, Inc. was going to be the presenting sponsor, making the race “The Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands.”
In 2018, Woodford Reserve replaced Yum! Brands, which now gives the race the name “The Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve.”
The Greatest Horse Trainer Of All Time
Ben Jones has the most wins all-time by a trainer with six. His horses won in 1938, 1941, 1944, 1948, 1949, and 1952. Under Ben Jones, the Calumet Farm in Lexington, Kentucky, became one of the greatest stables in thoroughbred racing history.
As we mentioned, he’s the only trainer to win six times, and two of those victories ended up being Triple Crown winner — Whirlaway and Citation. He was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1958.
The Most Wins By A Jockey
The most wins by a jockey at the Kentucky Derby is locked in a tie. Both Eddie Arcaro and Bill Hartack have five wins. Arcaro won his first in 1938 and his last in 1952 while Hartack won his first in 1957 and his last in 1968.
Arcaro is the only jockey in history to have won two Triple Crowns, while Hartack would go on to win the Preakness three times and the Belmont Stakes once.
2019’s Winning Horse Was Disqualified
May 4, 2019, was a wet and muddy day at Belmont Stakes. The horses carried on though, with Maximum Security leading the pack from the wire and finishing 1 3/4 lengths ahead of Country House. But in the first-ever move of its type during the race’s history, Derby officials disqualified the horse for interference and named Country House the official winner.
Several jockeys claimed that Maximum Security had interfered with the progress of their horses. Maximum Security’s owner, Gary West, appealed the decision, saying that [Stewards’} “determination to disqualify Maximum Security is not supported by substantial evidence.” His appeal was denied by the state racing commission. West also pulled Maximum Security from the next leg of racing, the Triple Crown.
Justify Made History In 2018
In 2018, Justify became the first horse since Apollo in 1882 to win the Derby without having raced as a two-year-old. He’s the most recent winner of the Triple Crown having also won the Preakness and the Belmont.
He retired after finishing his career undefeated, which made him the only American Triple Crown winner to never lose a race. He’s also the second horse to win the Triple Crown with an undefeated record following Seattle Slew.
Secretariat Is The Fastest Horse In The History Of The Kentucky Derby
The faster mile and a quarter ever run was by Secretariat in 1973. He became the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years and broke records at the Belmont Stakes by winning the race by 31 lengths.
That race is widely regarded as the greatest run race of all time. During his career, he won five Eclipse Awards, including Horse of the Year when he was two and three. In the list of top 100 U.S. Racehorses of the 20th Century, Secretariat ranks second to only Man o’ War who raced from 1919-1920.
The Longest Shot To Win Was…
Donerail was the upset winner of the 1913 Kentucky Derby. His win stands to this day as the biggest long-shot victory in the history of the Derby. He was given 91-1 odds and provided a hefty $184.90 payoff on a $2 bet, which in those days was massive.
Of his 62 starts, he won 10 of them, placed in 11 and showed in 10 others. His career earnings amounted to $15,156 and he retired as a breeding stallion in Lexington, Kentucky.
The Mint Julep Is The Drink Of Choice
It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that there are some beverages consumed during the event. One drink, in particular, is served at a very high capacity. Almost 120,000 mint juleps are served every year over the Kentucky Derby weekend.
They have to stock up on 1,000 pounds of fresh mint, 60,000 pounds of ice, and 10,000 bottles of Old Forester Mint Julep cocktail. Visitors also crush about 5.5 tons of local product at the concession stands every year as well.
Calvin Borel Set A New Record in 2010
Calvin Borel set a new record as the first jockey to win three out of four consecutive Kentucky Derbys. He won in 2007, 2009, and 2010. His win in 2009 was on Mine That Bird, which was the second biggest upset in Derby history after Donerail.
To top it off, he won that race by six and three-quarters lengths, which were the longest in history since Assault won by eight lengths in 1946.
It Costs A Lot Of Money To Purchase A Winning Horse
The highest purchase price at auction for a Kentucky Derby-winning horse is four million dollars in 2000, and the horse’s name was Fusaichi Pegasus. That doesn’t even include housing for the horse!
That price point is somewhat high considering the lowest Kentucky Derby winning horse sold for just $1.2 thousand in 1971. For comparison, the 2016 auction price of 2018 Kentucky Derby winner Justify was $500 thousand dollars. This is not a cheap sport.
You Could Turn A Small Bet Into A Huge Profit
You could win some big money if you go to the Kentucky Derby and strike gold. A Texas woman won $1.2 million on an $18 dollar bet on a series of races in 2018. That’s the second largest winning in Kentucky Derby history.
2016 was the first year that you could sire wager. Basically, this means that you can bet on a horse’s offspring to win the Derby, which has an incredible payout for the winner.