Saturday, May 5, America and the world will be glued to their TV sets to watch the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby.
The Kentucky Derby was first run in 1875 and was witnessed by roughly 10,000 people. The first race was run on a 1 1/2 mile course that was quickly changed to 1 1/4 miles the next year in 1876 and remains this length.
The race is often called “The most exciting two minutes in sports” as most races have been won in just over two minutes. In the 140-plus races there have been just two winners that have broke the two minute mark including the all-time record holder Secretariat with a time of 1:59.4 in 1973.
Kentucky Derby Beginnings
In 1872-73 Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr. (Grandson of William Clark of Lewis & Clark fame) traveled to England and France where he observed traditional, cultural horse races inspiring him to envisage the Louisville Jockey Club. When he returned to Kentucky he began the development of a race course that would eventually become known as Churchill Downs.
Clark funded the development by raising $32,000 through the sale of 320 memberships sold at $100 each. The grounds are located about three miles outside of Louisville on 80 acres leased from Clark’s uncles, John and Henry Churchill.
Kentucky Derby – More than just a race
The Kentucky Derby is far more than a two minute race. In fact the Kentucky Derby is but one of 25 races at Churchill Downs on the weekend.
It is no exaggeration to say that the Derby weekend is one of the nation’s most unique and influential cultural events. The Derby is known for its many celebrities in attendance on “Millionaire’s Row”, hats, fashion, the roses, “My Old Kentucky Home”, and of course, the wagering. There will be roughly $130 million dollars (officially) wagered on the Kentucky Derby, which is about 1/3 more than bet just a decade ago.
Of course, the Kentucky Derby is not complete without food and drink. The Kentucky Derby’s unofficial dish is burgoo, a thick meat and vegetable stew offered all weekend. The drink of the Derby is known to all, the Mint Julep. Since 1939 the Kentucky Derby has offered a souvenir glass for the libation of choice.