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Thursday 25th March 2021
The History of the Kentucky Derby

Watching thoroughbreds
Watching thoroughbreds over 1.25 miles is arguably the best 2 minutes a person could spend.

Whether you're an American flat racing fan or not, unless you've been living under a rock since 1875, you've heard of the Run for the Roses. The Kentucky Derby is a historic American race, held each year to try and determine the fastest three-year-old thoroughbred over one and a quarter miles. If you want to find out a little more about the history of this famous race then you've come to the right place.

The First-Ever Kentucky Derby

Back in 1872, a man called Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr. wanted to recreate the excitement of European horse racing, across the pond. He founded the Louisville Jockey Club in his home of Kentucky and raised the necessary funds to build the basis of the Churchill Downs racecourse, so named after the original land donors Henry and John Churchill. The racecourse quickly became a favorite spot for the rich and successful to gather, so it wasn't long before it gained notoriety. On the 17th of May, 1875, MLC Jr. would finally get to see his own recreation of the Epsom Downs Derby Stakes, at his very own racetrack. The crowd for the first Kentucky Derby consisted of some 10,000 spectators, all there to watch a field of fifteen thoroughbreds race 1.5 miles. That first year the race was won by Aristides in a time of 2:37:75.

A Little Editing

Those who know their English flat racing well, will have noticed a discrepancy in MLC Jr.'s vision of the Derby Stakes and his original inspiration. Whilst the Derby Stakes from Epsom Downs is 1.5 miles, the Kentucky Derby that we know today is only 1.25. To begin with, this wasn't the case. For 21 years the Kentucky Derby was run at a length of 1.5 miles, but after complaints that the race was too far, it was shortened to 1.25. It has remained this distance since 1896.

The other major change to come to the race was its increased publicity. Colonel Matt Winn would take charge of the Churchill Downs racetrack in 1902. As well as introducing betting guides and betting machines, he would also see that the Kentucky Derby made its way to national television. It made waves on radio, with celebrity guests, and on local television along the way. His input was imperative in the global success that the derby is today, along with one other figure...

Notable Names

Whilst the name we remember from last year is recently retired Authentic, perhaps the name to secure the Kentucky Derby a place in history was another horse rather than a man. In 1973 Secretariat would run the Derby in 1:59.40, an incredible feat of athleticism, with the record still unbeaten to date. Another horse who will never be forgotten was Sir Barton. Although the Triple Crown was not known as such by 1919, Sir Barton was the first horse to win it. That is, the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. For American owners and trainers winning the Triple Crown nowadays is about as good as it gets.

The Kentucky Derby Culture

The Kentucky Derby has brought with it many of its own traditions. The Run for the Roses started because of the vast garlands of roses placed upon the winning horse. With this showy tradition came glamorous women wearing ostentatious hats to the occasion. So vast has the reach of the Kentucky Derby been that there have even been real money casino games invented because of it. The 'Kentucky Derby' slot game is played online and requires players to watch a miniature running of the race at the top of the slot screen. Even the Mint Julep has become synonymous with Kentucky Derby Day. Although the charming days of the traditional South are faded, a sugary Mint Julep can transport a fan right back to the inception of this race.