History of Kentucky Derby
The Kentucky Derby is an annual horse race that takes place in Louisville, Kentucky. The event is always held on the first Saturday in May. It is the premier event of the Kentucky Derby Festival. The festival lasts for two weeks, and the derby takes place to end the festivities.
The Kentucky Derby, also known as The Run for the Roses, is classified as a Grade I stakes race. The name refers to the fact that a blanket of roses is draped over the winner. The horses that participate in the race must be thoroughbreds at least three years of age. The horses have to run one and a quarter miles, and the derby takes place at Churchill Downs. Geldings and colts have to weigh at least 126 pounds, and fillies must weigh at least 212 pounds. The race lasts for about two minutes, which is why the derby is often referred to as “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports.” Outside of the Breeders’ Cup races, the Kentucky Derby, along with the Whitney Handicap, is the “top Grade 1 race in the US.”
The American Triple Crown
In addition to being the ending event of the Kentucky Derby Festival, the actual Kentucky Derby is the beginning of the American Triple Crown. The American Triple Crown comes after the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. For a horse to win the Triple Crown, the animal must win the Kentucky Derby, along with the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. The Kentucky Derby has run every year consecutively since 1875, unlike the Belmont and Preakness Stakes. The Belmont and Preakness Stakes were not in effect from 1891-1893 and again from 1911-1912. All three races were run during both World Wars, even though other professional sports, including the Olympics, were canceled. This was because almost all the athletes had enlisted into the military.
Kentucky Derby Attendance
Kentucky Derby attendance is top-ranked in North America. There are usually more attendees there than all other stakes. It is the most attended race in the world. Millions of attendees from all over the world look forward to the event every year. Wealthy betters go to online sportsbooks and online tracks to place their bids. In 2017, there were 158,070 people in attendance when the horse named Always Dreaming won the Kentucky Derby. These attendance numbers made the 2017 Derby the seventh biggest crowd in the entire history of the race. There was also a reported wagering total of $209.2 million on all Derby races, which was a nine percent increase from 2016. The 2017 wager total also broke the previous record of $194.3 million in 2015.
TwinSpires is an online betting platform and Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup partner. TwinSpires “recorded $32.8 million in handle of the Churchill Down races for the Kentucky Derby Day program.” This was 22 percent more than the previous year. The TwinSpires handle was $20.1 million for the Kentucky Derby alone.
Many celebrities attend the Kentucky Derby as well. When Queen Elizabeth II was visiting the United States in 2007, she joined attendees at Churchill Downs to enjoy the race.
How the Kentucky Derby Rose to Fame
Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr., went to England in 1872. He was the grandson of William Clark (of the famous Lewis and Clark expedition). While there, he visited Epsom in Surrey, where there had been horse races since 1780. He left Epsom to travel to Paris, France, where he met other racing enthusiasts. These men formed the French Jockey Club and organized the Grand Prix de Paris. This became the greatest horse race in France at the time.
When Col. Clark returned to his home state of Kentucky, he started the Louisville Jockey Club. He intended to raise funds to build upscale horse racing facilities right outside of Louisville. The area became known as Churchill Downs, named after John and Henry Churchill. The Churchills provide the racetrack land. The area was officially incorporated as Churchill Downs in 1937.
Kentucky Derby Sponsorship
In 2004, jockeys were permitted to wear advertising logos on their uniforms. The decision came due to a court order. Norman Adams has been the Kentucky Derby logo designer since 2002. In February of 2006, Yum! Brands, Inc., a fast food company based in Louisville, Kentucky, announced that it would become a sponsor for the Derby. The sponsored race would be called “The Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands.” Woodford Reserve took the place of Yum! Brands as the presenting sponsor of the race in 2018.
Kentucky Derby Traditions
The actual race is the main attraction of the Kentucky Derby. However, several traditions make the event especially exciting. For instance, the mint julep is an iced cocktail made of sugar syrup, mint, and bourbon. It is a staple at the Derby. The mint julep has also been called the traditional or signature beverage of the event. The cocktail is served in a silver julep cup that has been ice-frosted. Most of the Churchill Downs patrons enjoy their mint juleps from souvenir glasses. These glasses were offered for the first time in 1939, and have been available ever since. The glasses are also collector’s items since they are painted with winners of previous Derby races. In addition to mint julep, burgoo is served at the Kentucky Derby. Burgoo is a hearty stew made from chicken, pork, beef and a variety of vegetables.
It is also tradition for spectators to go to the infield of the horse track. General admission is charged for people to get into this area. It’s likely that people will have to view the race on the jumbotron; installed in 2014. The main purpose of spending time in the infield is to party. This is different from Millionaire’s Row, which is the nickname for the pricey box seats at the Kentucky Derby. Millionaire’s Row attracts many celebrities, as well as affluent members of society. Women who sit in this section often have large, fancy hats. However, most women who attend the derby wear a fancy hat of some kind.
After the Call to the Post, the Louisville Cardinal Marching Band plays a song. “My Old Kentucky Home” (a song by Stephen Foster), is played as the horses are led before the grandstands. Attendees have the opportunity to see the beautiful animals up close. This tradition began in 1921.
Run for the Roses
The Run for the Roses is another name for the Kentucky Derby. It is also a tradition that is connected to the event. A blanket made of 554 beautiful red roses is draped over the Kentucky Derby winner every year. This tradition dates back to 1883. E. Berry Wall, a socialite from New York, started the tradition. He gave red roses to the women who attended a party after the Derby. Col. M. Lewis Clark, the president and founder of Churchill Downs, was also at the party. Clark was inspired by Wall’s gift and decided to make the rose the official flower of the Kentucky Derby. A few years later in 1896, there was a recorded account of the rose blanket being awarded to the Derby winner. The rose garland and the Kentucky Derby Trophy are both awarded by the state’s governor. The race has become a cultural staple. Pop artist Dan Fogelberg wrote, “Run for the Roses” which was played at the 1980 Kentucky Derby.
Most Kentucky Derby attendees also wait to hear the command “riders up!” before the race begins. The paddock judge says the phrase to let jockeys know that it’s time to get on their horses. However, a celebrity or distinguished member of society has given the command since 2012.
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