History of the Kentucky Derby
Years ago, it was proclaimed “America’s Greatest Race” by Colonel Matt Winn, the legendary president of Churchill Downs and visionary of the Kentucky Derby. Today, it is all of that and more. On the first Saturday in May, 150,000 people, including celebrities, dignitaries, and racing fans from around the world flock to Churchill Downs in Louisville, KY for the running of the Kentucky Derby. It is the longest, continuously held sporting event in the United States. The supreme prize sought by horsemen by the Preakness and Belmont stakes. The Derby is a Grade I Stakes race for three year old thoroughbreds at 1.25 miles.
It all started May 17, 1875 when Oliver Lewis rode Aristides to victory before 10,000 people in the First Kentucky Derby. It has been a premier annual event since then and the 141st running will take place on May 2nd, 2015. Derby horses are bred and trained in many locations, but Kentucky has always been the center for breeding and racing thoroughbreds. One of the most famous and successful horse farms is Calumet in Lexington, Kentucky, which has saddled eight Kentucky Derby winners.
There are many memorable highlights in the history of the Derby. Eleven Derby winners have gone on to win the triple crown, the first being Sir Barton in 1919 and the last being affirmed in 1978. The champion, of course, was Secretariat, who set records at all three races, and is arguably the greatest thoroughbred in the history of racing. Other notables among that group were War Admiral, Whirlaway, Gallant Fox, and Citation. Two jockeys are tied at five each for the most wins, Eddie Arcaro and Bill Hartack. Worthy of mention is Willie Shoemaker, who rode four horses to victory. Ben Jones holds the title of the most wins for a trainer at six. Three fillies have won the Derby, Regret in 1915, Genuine Risk in 1980, and Winning Colors in 1988. The largest payout for a $2.00 Win Ticket, in the Kentucky Derby was $184.90 for Donerail in 1913.
The Kentucky Derby is also famous for its “Mint Juleps”, elegant and flamboyant hats, and lavish attire. You will see presidents, movie stars, sports legends, the rich and famous, and others from all walks of life among the crowd that gathers under the twin spires on Derby Day. You can enjoy a bit of history as you stroll along some of the old original brick walkways as you enter Churchill Downs. And watch the trainers saddle the contenders in the paddock area, hear the call, “Riders Up”, and listen to the trumpets sound “Call To The Post”.
Finally, as the horses enter the track for the “Run For The Roses”, you can feel the wave of nostalgia and perhaps shed a tear as the tremendous crowd joins in singing the traditional, “My Old Kentucky Home”.
Why not be there and become a part of the “History of the Kentucky Derby”? And if you are lucky, you may watch your horse being led into the winners circle to receive the Garland of Roses.
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