Kentucky Derby History

April 26, 2018

Kentucky Derby History DerbyThe Kentucky Derby is just over a week away and the city of Louisville is getting ready for “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports”. You may know a lot about some of the Kentucky Derby traditions, such as the garland of roses or mint juleps, but many are not familiar with the history of this exciting day in horse racing. The Kentucky Derby has been run every consecutive year since 1875, even during the Great Depression and both World Wars. The first Kentucky Derby ran on May 17th, 1875, after Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark formed the Louisville Jockey Club and acquired land to be the racetrack. The first race had a field of 15 horses and approximately 10,000 spectators attended.

Since then, there have been many changes that have helped make the Kentucky Derby the event that it is today. By 1894 the crowds had grown in size, prompting the construction of the 285-foot grandstands, which came to be the twin spires. The crowds continued to grow each year, and more and more people have been able to listen and watch the running of the Kentucky Derby, as well. In 1984, The Kentucky Derby was simulcast at 24 racetracks across the nation, allowing them to live wager throughout the day. The highest attendance on record for Derby day is 165,307.

Aside from increased crowd attendance and participation, the Derby is well-known as the first race of the Triple Crown. It is followed by the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes, and a horse must win all three races to be named a Triple Crown Winner.

The celebration of the Kentucky Derby starts two weeks before the actual “Run for the Roses”, and events take place throughout that time. It includes a number of events around the Louisville area, including Thunder Over Louisville, the Chow Wagon, Marathon, etc., that are all a part of the Kentucky Derby Festival.

If you have attended the Derby before or plan to attend this year, you may be aware of the chance of brushing shoulders with celebrities, as Churchill Downs has become “the place to be” to watch Oaks and Derby. Since 1966, actors, singers, politicians, and other celebrity personalities have come to the racetrack to watch the races from the famed Millionaire’s Row. Along with Millionaire’s Row, Churchill Downs has added numerous suites and dining areas for race fans to enjoy. And, if you prefer to see your horse right before they take the track, fans can enjoy watching the horses enter the Paddock area before the race.

Whether you have been to the Derby numerous times, or prefer to watch from home, The Kentucky Derby is a day full of racing, fashion, enjoying food and drink, and excitement.

Are you planning on heading to the track this year, or are you attending a Derby party? Let us know some of your favorite Derby traditions in the comments below. 

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