History

History of the Kentucky Derby

History of the Derby
The Kentucky Derby is a Grade I stakes race for 3 year-old thoroughbred horses, held annually in Louisville, Kentucky, on the first Saturday in May. Since May 17, 1875, the Kentucky Derby has been held at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. The first jewel of the Triple Crown, which includes the Belmont Stakes and the Preakness Stakes, the Kentucky Derby is a high stakes race for three-year-old thoroughbred horses.

Known as “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports” for the approximate amount of time it takes all horses to cross the finish line, the Kentucky Derby is now held annually on the first Saturday in May and draws close to 155,000 fans. In addition to the race itself, a number of traditions play a large role in the Derby atmosphere. The Mint Julep, an iced drink consisting of bourbon, mint and a sugar syrup is the traditional beverage of the race. The historic drink can be served in an ice-frosted silver julep cup but most Churchill Downs patrons sip theirs from a souvenir glass printed with all previous Derby winners. Also, burgoo, a thick stew of beef, chicken, pork and vegetables, is a popular Kentucky dish served at the Derby.

The infield, a spectator area inside the track, offers general admission prices but little chance of seeing much of the race. Instead, revelers show up in the infield to party with abandon. By contrast, “Millionaire’s Row” refers to the expensive box seats that attract the rich, the famous and the well-connected. Women appear in fine outfits lavishly accessorized with large, elaborate hats. As the horses are paraded before the grandstands, the University of Louisville marching band plays Stephen Foster’s “My Old Kentucky Home.”

The Derby is frequently referred to as “The Run for the Roses,” because a lush blanket of 554 red roses is awarded to the Kentucky Derby winner each year. The tradition is as a result of New York socialite E. Berry Wall presenting roses to ladies at a post-Derby party in 1883 that was attended by Churchill Downs founder and president, Col. M. Lewis Clark. This gesture is believed to have eventually led Clark to the idea of making the rose the race’s official flower. However, it was not until 1896 that any recorded account referred to roses being draped on the Derby winner. The Governor of Kentucky awards the garland and the trophy. Pop vocalist Dan Fogelberg composed a song by that title for the 1980 running of the race.