Growing up with a horse trainer for a father, I spent many May days glued to the television watching the Kentucky Derby Run for the Roses. I remember hanging out around Santa Anita Racetrack, listening to the old timers talk about different horses and the various tracks.
One of these, home to the Kentucky Derby, is Churchill Downs. There are some interesting things about the Downs and the Kentucky Derby that are not well known. The track opened on May 17, 1875. www.louisville.about.com says that in 1875 the course length was 1.5 miles and was shortened to 1.25 miles in 1896 because it was believed the length was too long for the spring colts to run.
According to www.allhorseracing.ag, “The Kentucky Derby is limited to three year old thoroughbreds both fillies and colts. In 1896 the course was shortened from the original 1.5 miles to 1.25 miles, the reasoning being that the old course was too long for three year olds in the spring.”
Ansel Williamson and Oliver Lewis, trained and rode the Thoroughbred colt “Aristides” on the opening day of the first Kentucky Derby on May 17, 1875. The three year old was owned by H. P. McGrath. The crowd of 10,000 went crazy when the colt set the new world’s record for the mile and a half distance.
In 1899 a real tragedy occurred, with the suicide by pistol of M Lewis Clark. He was the nephew of famous explorer Merriweather Clark. Family sources say he was afraid of dying in poverty and becoming senile. This was the year that the 25th Derby was run. Clark’s mother had married into the Churchill family and was a founding member of the Downs. He was later left out of the will, due to his poor financial abilities.
Other odd factoids are:
The youngest jockey to win ride the winning horse was only 15 years old Another interesting item is that the only Derby winner to ever sire another Derby winner was Unbridled who sired Grind Stone.
This year due to change in method of qualifying for the Derby, no fillies will be running. They did not make the points needed in the qualifying races.
Racing fans are still fascinated by the Run for the Roses and all the stories and legends that surround it. Did you know that the Rose blanket traditionally is made of 554 roses? I love the pageantry, but the stories are what bring me back each year.