The Kentucky Derby is the longest running annual horse race in the United States.
Held in Louisville, Kentucky, each year on the first Saturday in May, the race caps off the two-week-long Kentucky Derby Festival. The Festival is Kentucky’s largest event, which includes fireworks, balloon and steamboat racing, parade, marathon and a basketball tournament. The Derby is a Grade 1 Stakes race for three-year-old thoroughbreds raced over a mile and a quarter [2 K] dirt track. Colts and geldings carry 126 pounds while fillies carry 121. The Kentucky Derby is billed as “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports” and has been run every consecutive year since 1875. It is the first leg of thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown, preceding the Preakness by two weeks and the Belmont Stakes by five weeks. Along with the Whitney Handicap, which is held at Saratoga in late July or early August, the Kentucky Derby is the top Grade 1 race in the United States outside of the Breeder’s Cup. Horses gain entry via a points system. In the eight months leading up to the Derby, 35 designated races are held around the world that award points to the top four finishers. The 20 horses with the most points earn a spot in the starting gate. The Derby is the best attended horse race in America, with over 170,000 patrons attending the race in 2015.
Churchill Downs, located on Central Avenue in south Louisville, was named for John and Henry Churchill, who provided the land for the racetrack. With its signature twin spire grandstand, the left handed dirt track has hosted every Derby since 1875 and has been designated a National Historic Landmark. The inaugural Kentucky Derby—won by Aristedes–was held May 17, 1865, when a field of 15 horses ran one-and-a-half miles before 10,000 fans. In 1896, the race was shortened to its current distance. The Derby is known as “The Run for the Roses,” as each winner has been draped in a blanket of 554 red roses in the Winner’s Circle each year since 1896. This year’s race will include a $ 2 million purse, with the top five finishers receiving a share and $ 1,425,000 going to the winner. Two horses have run the Derby in under two minutes. Secretariat ran a blistering 1:59.40 to win the first leg of the 1973 Triple Crown, a record that still stands over four decades later, while Monarchos ran 1:59.97 in 2001. The most wins by a jockey in the Derby are held by Eddie Arcaro [Daily Dose, November 12] and Bill Hartack, with five each, while Ben A. Jones has trained six winning horses, most of all time. The longest shot to win was Donerail, who overcame 91-to-1 odds to win the race in 1913.
On the Friday before the Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs hosts the Kentucky Oaks, a race for three-year-old fillies. The Oaks is the first leg of the “Triple Tiara,” the triple crown for female horses. The race winner gets $600,000 and a large garland of lilies, making the Kentucky Oaks the “Lilies for Fillies.” Derby Day traditions at Churchill Downs include mint juleps [an iced drink made with bourbon, mint and sugar syrup], burgoo [thick stew of beef, chicken, pork and vegetables] and Derby Pie [chocolate and walnut tart in a pie shell with pastry dough crust]. Ladies wear dresses and large, elaborate hats while the well-connected enjoy expensive box seats along “Millionaires Row.” The race is preceded by the playing of My Old Kentucky Home by the University of Louisville Marching Band. The first live radio broadcast of the Fastest Two Minutes in Sports occurred in 1925, while the race was first broadcast live on national television in 1952.
The 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby will take place in the tenth race at Churchill Downs tomorrow. Post time is 6:34 pm ET.