Kentucky Derby Has a Long and Colorful History

Today, the Kentucky Derby is as famous for its spectators' large, colorful hats and raucous revelry as it is for being the nation's second oldest Thoroughbred horse race or the first leg of the U.S. Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing. Since 1875, the race -- which is also referred to as the "Run for the Roses" or "The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports" -- has taken place at Louisville's Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.

The race was the brainchild of Col. M. Lewis Clark, who toured France and England from 1872 to 1873 with several of the day's prominent horseracing leaders. During his travels, Clark devised a plan to establish the Louisville Jockey Club and build the racetrack that would eventually be known as Churchill Downs upon his return to Kentucky.

Over the following decades, the Kentucky Derby expanded and modernized, attracting increasingly large crowds of spectators. The Kentucky Derby Festival, a two-week-long citywide celebration that precedes the race, was launched in 1935. In 1952, the race was first televised and two years later, the purse exceeded $100,000 for the first time. In 1973, Secretariat broke the two-minute mark and still holds the record for the fastest time ever run in the Derby.

During its 134-year history, the Kentucky Derby has come to be associated with several enduring traditions, including the blanket of roses that is draped over the winning jockey, the playing of Stephen Foster's "My Old Kentucky Home" by the University of Louisville marching band as the horses are paraded in front of the grandstands, and the drinking of mint juleps, iced concoctions made from bourbon, mint and sugar syrup. While the raucous revelry takes place in the infield, an area inside the track that serves as "party central," Churchill Downs' celebrated box seats, known as "Millionaire's Row," draw wealthy, well connected and celebrity spectators who enjoy displaying their fashion finery as much as watching "Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports."

Home Events Family Fun Spring Fitness Site Map Advertisers