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What is the Kentucky Derby?

The Kentucky Derby, often dubbed "The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports," is a prestigious horse race held annually in Louisville, Kentucky. It's the first leg of the Triple Crown, steeped in tradition with mint juleps and elaborate hats. This event isn't just about the race; it's a celebration of Southern culture. Ready to explore the rich history behind the Derby's storied past?
Grayson Millar
Grayson Millar

The Kentucky Derby is an annual 1.25-mile horse race for three-year-old Thoroughbreds held at Churchill Downs Racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky. It ranks first in attendance among American Thoroughbred Racing events and is the first of three legs in the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing, which also includes The Preakness Stakes and The Belmont Stakes. It is one of the only American Thoroughbred Racing events that draws a wide audience from outside the horse racing world. It also is known as "The Run for the Roses," because a blanket of roses is awarded to the winning horse, and as "the most exciting two minutes in sports."

Started in 1875, the Kentucky Derby is one of the longest-running thoroughbred horse races in the United States. It was started by Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr., who had attended several horse races in England and France while visiting Europe in 1872. The Bluegrass Region of Kentucky, Clark's home, was known for raising race horses, and Clark formed the Louisville Racing Club to secure funds to build a race track. Clark eventually founded Churchill Downs, which is named after Henry and John Churchill, relatives of Clark on whose land the track was built.

The Kentucky Derby is an annual 1.25-mile horse race.
The Kentucky Derby is an annual 1.25-mile horse race.

The Kentucky Derby originally was 1.5-miles long, in accordance with the races Clark had attended in Europe, but it was changed to 1.25 miles in 1896. The first Kentucky Derby featured 15 horses before an audience of 10,000 people, and it was won by the colt Aristides, ridden by Oliver Lewis. More than half of the first 28 annual races were won by horses ridden by black jockeys. After a successful inaugural race, the Kentucky Derby had serious financial difficulties until 1902, when Churchill Downs was acquired by a group of businessmen led by Colonel Matt Winn. Ever since, the Kentucky Derby has been the most successful and well-known three-year-old stakes horse race in the U.S.

Mint juleps are commonly associated with the Kentucky Derby.
Mint juleps are commonly associated with the Kentucky Derby.

The popularity of the Kentucky Derby resulted in its first television broadcast in 1952, and it has been broadcast every year since then. Starting in 2004, jockeys have been allowed to advertise corporations by wearing corporate logos on their clothing. Along with the race, The Kentucky Derby also is a major attraction because of the party atmosphere that surrounds it. A key symbol of the atmosphere is the mint julep, the race's official drink, which is made with bourbon, mint and simple syrup on ice.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Kentucky Derby and why is it significant?

The Kentucky Derby is also called the "Run for the Roses."
The Kentucky Derby is also called the "Run for the Roses."

The Kentucky Derby is a prestigious horse race held annually in Louisville, Kentucky, at Churchill Downs. It's significant because it's the first leg of the United States Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing, making it a highly anticipated event for horse racing enthusiasts. Known as "The Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports," the Derby has been run every consecutive year since its inception in 1875, showcasing the world's finest 3-year-old thoroughbreds.

How are horses selected to compete in the Kentucky Derby?

Horses are selected for the Kentucky Derby based on a points system established in 2013, known as the "Road to the Kentucky Derby." This series of races awards points to the top finishers, and the 20 horses with the most points earn a spot in the starting gate. This system ensures that the most successful horses during the prep season get to compete in the Derby.

What traditions are associated with the Kentucky Derby?

The Kentucky Derby is rich in tradition, with the most famous being the garland of roses draped over the winning horse, earning it the nickname "The Run for the Roses." Spectators often don mint julep, a traditional bourbon-based cocktail, and women wear elaborate hats as part of the fashion spectacle. The singing of "My Old Kentucky Home" as the horses parade to the starting gate is another cherished ritual.

What is the economic impact of the Kentucky Derby?

The Kentucky Derby has a significant economic impact on the Louisville area and the state of Kentucky. According to the Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Derby and the Kentucky Oaks (a race for 3-year-old fillies held the day before the Derby) generate an estimated $400 million in economic impact for the region. The event also creates thousands of temporary jobs and draws tourists from around the world.

How can I watch the Kentucky Derby and when is it held?

The Kentucky Derby is traditionally held on the first Saturday in May and can be watched on television, with coverage typically provided by NBC in the United States. For those who prefer online streaming, options like the NBC Sports app and the official Kentucky Derby website offer live streams. The race is also broadcast internationally, making it accessible to a global audience.

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    • The Kentucky Derby is an annual 1.25-mile horse race.
      By: bibi
      The Kentucky Derby is an annual 1.25-mile horse race.
    • Mint juleps are commonly associated with the Kentucky Derby.
      By: wollertz
      Mint juleps are commonly associated with the Kentucky Derby.
    • The Kentucky Derby is also called the "Run for the Roses."
      By: Studio Porto Sabbia
      The Kentucky Derby is also called the "Run for the Roses."