The first Saturday in May. For horse racing fans, it’s a curious mix of Opening Day and the Playoffs combined. It’s both pomp and circumstance. It’s about two minutes that can be as wildly unpredictable as any prediction in sports (Twice in the last 10 years, a 50 to 1 long shot has won the Derby), ironically enough, in a sport whose main draw is the prediction of winners. It’s about hats, and Mint Juleps, and celebrity, and magnificent animals. And we’re coming up on the 140th annual running of the first of the famed “Triple Crown Races” (and unlike the Preakness or Belmont, the Derby has never missed a run).
A Few Things You Might Not Know About the Kentucky Derby
It has grown. Somewhere less than 10,000 people saw the first Kentucky Derby back in 1875, and attendance at Churchill Downs (where the Derby is run) has topped out (so far) at over 165,000 for the 138th running as recently as 2012. And the prize has grown too: The total prize-money purse started out at $1,000 in 1875 with some add-ons, and from 2005 on, the purse was a minimum of $2,000,000 (topping out so far at over $2,300,000).
We know what you’re drinking, but what are you eating? Most people have heard of the Mint Julep as being the official drink of the Derby, but did you know that Kentucky Burgoo is considered the traditional (if not official) food of the Derby? On the other hand, spectators at Churchill Downs will also consume between 140,000 and 150,000 hot dogs too. So, maybe they need to revisit that tradition in Burgoo-land.
It may not be hereditary. For an industry that prides itself on searching out (and paying premium prices for) the best sires in hopes of perpetuating greatness in a racehorse, the Kentucky Derby hasn’t proved to be that solid a barometer. Of the 139 winners so far, only 12 Derby winners have sired other Derby winners, according to About.com (horses are often sent to stud after they turn four or older, and are often kept in the breeding shed for a decade or more, so there’s a much more frequent generational turnover than in humans).
Big hats, lots of rain? According to Churchill Down’s fun facts, there has been at least some rain during the day on 47% of the Derby runs (65 of 139).
Run ’em young. Only one horse has ever won the Kentucky Derby (a race exclusively for three year old horses) without having ever run as a 2 year old (the first year that horses can run competitively in sanctioned NTRA races). And that horse (Apollo) did it way back in 1882.
If you haven’t watched the Kentucky Derby, give it a shot. If nothing else, it’s a study in cross-cultures, where celebrities hobnob with grizzled veterans of off-track betting, and women with big hats and Mint Juleps and old men with dog-eared copies of The Daily Racing Form all get to cheer together for “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports.”