The Kentucky Derby is an annual horse race for 3-year-old Thoroughbreds held in Louisville, Kentucky. It is held on the first Saturday in May and has been since 1946. In 1945, the last year of World War II, it was not held until June 9. It is known as “The Fastest Two Minutes in Sports” due to its short duration. However, people come to Louisville from all over the world to celebrate the Kentucky Derby Festival for two weeks prior to the actual race. It is the first race of the US Triple Crown and is followed by the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes.
The Kentucky Derby was organized by Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr.
The Kentucky Derby was based off of the Epsom Derby, which is a 1 ½ mile horse race on a grass track. The Epsom Derby has been ran in England since 1780. Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr., the grandson of William Clark of the famous Lewis and Clark expedition, visited England and got to see this race firsthand in 1872. When he returned to Kentucky, he organized the Louisville Jockey Club to help raise money for our own racing facility to hold our very own Derby. This track is now known worldwide as Churchill Downs, named after John and Henry Churchill who provided the land. The first Kentucky Derby was held here on May 17, 1875 and for the first 21 Derbys, it was a mile and a half race as well. In 1896, the distance changed to 1 ¼ miles, which is what the horses still run today.
The winning trainers in 2 out of the first 3 Kentucky Derbys were former slaves
Horse racing was not initially just for the aristocratic. Both Ansel Williamson, the trainer of Aristides (the winning horse of the first Derby) and Ed Brown, the trainer of Baden-Baden (the winning horse of the third Derby) were former slaves. Unlike many other sports at that time, the Kentucky Derby was culturally diverse. In the first Kentucky Derby 13 out of the 15 jockeys were African-American. Out of the first 28 Kentucky Derbys, 15 of the winning jockeys were African-American.
The Mint Julep is the official drink of the Kentucky Derby
Approximately 120,000 Mint Juleps are served annually between the Oaks and the Kentucky Derby. It is not known where exactly this tradition came from, but this drink did originate in the South around the 18th century and has been associated with the Kentucky Derby since 1938. It was initially used for medicinal purposes. Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky introduced this, now infamous, drink to Washington D.C. It is now synonymous with the Kentucky Derby. Early Times Mint Julep Ready-to-Serve Cocktail has been the official Mint Julep of the Kentucky Derby for more than 18 years. This drink includes 2 cups of sugar, 2 cups of water, sprigs of fresh mint, crushed ice and Early Times Whiskey served in a Silver Julep Cup..
Secretariat holds the record for the fastest time
The record for the fastest time is held by Secretariat, who won the Kentucky Derby in 1973 in 1:59. However, did you know that Monarchos came in a very close second in 2001 when he finished the race in 1:59.97? Who knows if this will be the year that some lucky horse will break Secretariat’s record?
The 1st Kentucky Derby Festival was held in 1956
Today’s Kentucky Derby Festival is a two week long extravaganza that is kicked off with one of the largest firework shows in North America, Thunder over Louisville. Thunder over Louisville is both a spectacular firework and air show over the Ohio River attracting over 500,000 spectators annually. The Derby Festival has more than 70 events, including one of the country’s largest mini marathons, the Great Steamboat Race, the Balloon Glow and the Pegasus Parade.
While the very first Kentucky Derby Festival was meager in comparison, it still had the same vision and goal, to bring the community together in a way that was both entertaining and affordable for the masses. Not all people can afford to go to the actual Kentucky Derby, but they can still celebrate our state’s history at many free or cheap Derby events. The Kentucky Derby Festival in 1956 started the very first Pegasus Parade. They envisioned a parade with floats, marching bands and horses that they hoped would be like the history of the horse race set to music and flowers. The parade still encompasses those same qualities today on a much larger scale. It was named the Pegasus Parade for the winged horse of Greek mythology to symbolize both the magic and energy that they had planned for the festival. (http://discover.kdf.org/about-kdf-2/history-of-kentucky-derby-festival/)
Ed McNamara, “20 Fun Facts about the Kentucky Derby”, http://www.newsday.com/sports/horseracing/20-fun-facts-about-the-kentucky-derby-1.2849366
“Traditions Mint Julep”, http://www.kentuckyderby.com/experience/traditions/mint-julep2
“History of Kentucky Derby Festival”, http://discover.kdf.org/about-kdf-2/history-of-kentucky-derby-festival/