• Abi Kroupa

The 146th Kentucky Derby has been rescheduled for September 2020

Updated: May 11, 2020

The 146th Kentucky Derby was re-scheduled from May 2, 2020, to September 5, 2020.

Churchill Downs Incorporated CEO, Bill Carstanjen, stated: “Throughout the rapid development of the COVID-19 pandemic, our first priority has been how to best protect the safety and health of our guests, team members, and community. As the situation evolved, we steadily made all necessary operational adjustments to provide the safest experience and environment. The most recent developments have led us to make some very difficult, but we believe, necessary decisions and our hearts are with those who have been or continue to be affected by this pandemic.”

For more information visit: https://www.kentuckyderby.com/updates

The Kentucky Derby, often called “the most exciting two minutes in sports,” is also well known as the “Run for the Roses®.” Only two minutes long, yet a good portion of Americans have their eyes glued to the televised coverage of the race. America holds horse races throughout the year, but for millions of couch potato fans, horse racing begins and ends on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.

Louisville sits on the banks of the Ohio River and is bustling weeks before the race. Parades and spectacular fireworks honor this magnificent event. The attendance at Churchill Downs tops in at around 160,000, half of the crowd for any Super Bowl.

Photo Credit: Penelope Miller May 4, 2019

First run in 1875, the Kentucky Derby has evolved into the preeminent horse race of the nation. The first race of the Derby started iconic traditions such as the crowd singing “My Old Kentucky Home” before post time, bringing a tear to most everyone’s eyes. And let’s not forget the massive garland of roses that drapes around the winner. This tradition started in 1896. Even the horse walk from the barns is televised as a traditional part of the anticipation. The call of “Riders Up!” before they depart the parade ring continues to increase the excitement.

1896 – The rose garland first appeared when the winner, Ben Brush, received a floral arrangement of white and pink roses.

1904 – The red rose became the official flower of the Kentucky Derby.

1925 – New York sports columnist, Bill Corum, famously dubbed the Kentucky Derby the “Run for the Roses®.”

1932 – The garland as it exists today was first introduced for the 58th running, won by Burgoo King.

At breakneck speeds, the partnerships of horses and riders jostle for position on the crucial run to the first bend. Churchill Downs is a tight oval track, and if a horse is four or more wide on the first turn, they are giving up pivotal ground. A fast pace often indicates that those trailing are closing in as they turn for home at the stretch. For every winner, there are those half a dozen or with hard-luck stories who complain, “what might have been,” and wishing openings during the run had materialized for them.


Aristides-May 17 1875 Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby was first held on May 17, 1875, at the Churchill Downs racetrack in Louisville. It is the longest-running horse racing event in the United States. It’s also the longest-running sports event of any kind in the U.S. Dubbed the “Run for the Roses®,” the Derby features only three-year-old thoroughbreds racing a distance of 1.25 miles. Today, some 150,000+ spectators gather on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby. Besides betting on the horses, Derby fans are well-known for drinking mint juleps, singing “My Old Kentucky Home,” and wearing flashy and extravagant hats.

Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr., the grandson of William Clark of the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition, started the first Kentucky Derby. Meriwether Clark, inspired by horse races he’d seen in Europe, raised enough money to build Churchill Downs on land generously donated by his uncles, John & Henry Churchill.

In 1872, Clark traveled to Europe, where he visited leading horse-racing sites in England and France. England’s Epsom Downs Racecourse, home of the Derby Stakes since 1780, inspired Clark. Organized by the 12th earl of Derby and his friends, it is a 1.5-mile race for three-year-old horses. 

When Clark returned home to Kentucky, he founded the Louisville Jockey Club and raised money to build the racetrack. As mentioned, his uncles Henry and John Churchill generously donated the land. Famous for throwing extravagant parties, Clark envisioned his racetrack as a place where the city’s stylish residents would gather.

On May 17, 1875, some 10,000 people attended the first Kentucky Derby, which featured a field of 15 three-year-old thoroughbreds racing 1.5 miles. The winning horse was Aristides, who finished with a time of 2:37.75, ridden by Oliver Lewis, an African-American jockey.


Thirteen of the fifteen jockeys in the inaugural Derby were black. Black riders played a dominant role in the race’s early years, and from 1875 to 1902, eleven black jockeys rode 15 of the winning horses.

Isaac Burns Murphy rode in eleven Kentucky Derbys, winning three times: on Buchanan in 1884, Riley in 1890, and Kingman in 1891.

By the early 20th century, prejudice and jealousy of these jockeys’ success resulted in African-American riders largely disappearing from horse racing. Jimmy Winkfield was the last black jockey to win the Derby in 1901 and 1902.

In 1896 another change to the Derby was the shortening of the race. Following complaints from some members of the racing community that the distance was too long, the event was then reduced from 1.5 miles to 1.25 miles, the length it remains today.

In 1902 Martin Winn and his management team took over Churchill Downs and they were instrumental in transforming the Derby from a local event into America’s most iconic horse race. Winn also started inviting celebrities to the Derby plus broadcasting the race on the radio, which generated more publicity for the race and helped increase revenues.

According to Churchill Downs’ records, in 1903 French pari-mutuel machines started replacing human bookmakers. With pari-mutuel betting, the player buys a ticket on the horse he wishes to back. The payoff to winners comes from the pool of all bets on the various entries in a race. After the race, the operators’ commission and tax are deducted. The system has the advantage of always giving the operator a profit and allowing any number of bettors to win. This system proved to be more popular with the betting crowd.  

Under Winn’s management, the Kentucky Derby evolved into the nation’s preeminent Thoroughbred race in the early decades of the 20th century. It is also the first leg in the Triple Crown, which includes the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. Since 1919, the Series completed 12 wins.

American Pharaoh, Justify, Secretariat, Citation, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, Count Fleet, and War Admiral, all Triple Crown™ winners, are perhaps the most remembered of all Kentucky Derby winners. However, the race was also won by Hall of Fame greats: Swaps, Spectacular Bid, and Northern Dancer – considered by many to be one of the greatest stallions in the history of the breed.

American Pharoah won the 2015 Kentucky Derby and the historic Triple Crown, and later the Breeders’ Cup Classic. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Some Fun Derby Facts:

  1. The smallest race was in 1892, with only three horses competing.

  2. The fastest winner is Secretariat, with a time of 1:59.40 in 1973. The legendary horse went on to win the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes, holding the fastest record for both races and winning the Triple Crown.

  3. Nineteen past winners have had names beginning with the letter “S,” including Secretariat.

  4. On average, spectators will eat 142,000 hot dogs, 18,000 barbecue sandwiches, 13,800 pounds of beef, 32,400 jumbo shrimp, 9,000 scallops, 8,000 pounds of potatoes, 30,000 cookies and 300,000 strawberries.

  5. Dianne Crump was the first woman jockey to ever ride in the Derby: there has yet to be a female winner, but Shelley Riley came the closest in 1992, coming in second.

  6. The youngest jockey to win the esteemed race, Alonzo “Lonnie” Clayton, was just 15 come Derby day in 1892.

  7. Bill Shoemaker continues to hold the title as the oldest winner. He was 54 when he took home the 1986 title. 

  8.  Shoemaker has also ridden the most Kentucky Derby horses (26) in history.

  9. The record low temperature at the race (held on the first week of May every year) was 47 degrees in 1935 and the record high was 94 degrees in 1959.

  10. 1919 champion Sir Barton was the first Triple Crown™ winner. Surprisingly, he hadn’t won a race before arriving at the Derby.

  11. The race was first televised in 1952.

  12. The 2019 Derby was the first year that the official purse for the race was raised to $3 million, with the winner taking home $1.86 million. From 2005 to 2018, the purse was only $2 million.

  13. The Derby was won three times by fillies: Regret (1915), Genuine Risk (1980), and Winning Colors (1988).

  14. The longest-priced winner in Derby history came in 1913 when Donerail paid $184.90.

  15. In 2019, for the first time in the Derby’s history, the horse that crossed the finish line first didn’t win. The horse that ran the track fastest, Maximum Security, was disqualified for impeding another horse resulting in the second-place finisher, Country House, being moved up to the winner’s circle.

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This post was wonderfully written by Deborah Mack