The Kentucky Derby
Each year, the first Saturday in May begins the 2 week long Kentucky Derby Festival. Covering a distance of just over 2km, Colts and Geldings carry 57kg and fillies 55kg. Its a phenomenally well supported race with over 155,000 visitors attending the event each year. The State of Kentucky has had a grand history of this exciting sport, with organized horse racing taking place since the late 1700s, during which time a number of different courses were established around Louisville.
Back in 1872, Col M Lewis Clarke travelled to the Epsom Derby in
England and then to France to visit the French Jockey Club that had put together the Grand Prix de Paris which later become known as the famous Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
Somewhat inspired, Col Lewis Clarke then returned home and setup the Louisville Jockey Club. Initially this club was established for the purpose of raising funds for the refurbishment of the current racing facilities. Later this track was dubbed Churchill Downs in 1937 after Clarke’s family.
Initially the Kentucky Derby was 1.5 miles in distance – the same as the
Epsom Derby and the Grand Prix de Paris. However it was shortened to 1.25 miles
On the 17th of May, 1875, history was made as fifteen 3yr old thoroughbreds
made up the field for the first Kentucky Derby. Over 10,000 people turned up
to watch jockey Oliver Lewis ride Aristides to victory. Financial difficulties led the Louisville Jockey Club to be re-incorporated
with new capitalization and better facilities. Unfortunately though, this boost
did not save the club indefinitely.
In 1902 Col Matt Winn stepped in to lend a hand. He got together a group of businessmen and acquired the club. With Winn’s leadership and business skills, the Club prospered and the Kentucky Derby became the most famous and well supported derby of its kind.
On the 11th of May 1892, Alonzo Lonnie Clayton made history becoming
the youngest winner of the Kentucky Derby at age 15. In 1915, Regret
became the first filly to win the Derby and 2 years later in 1917, Omar
Khayyam was the first foreign bred horse to take the victory at the Kentucky
With their winnings from the Kentucky Derby, owners started to make tradition
of sending their horses to the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Racecourse in Baltimore and then to the Belmont Stakes in New York. These 3 races offered the biggest winnings then known and in 1919 Sir Barton made history by winning all three races. It was only 11 years later that the 3 races become known as the Triple Crown when Gallant Fox became the 2nd horse to win all three races
in a row.
Sportswriter Charles Hatton first used the phrase “Triple Crown” and the media quickly latched onto it. Two years later, a specific date was set for the Kentucky Derby and the first Saturday of May every year marked the start of the Triple Crown race festival.
History was made again on the 3rd of May 1952 when the Kentucky Derby first
received television coverage. Two years later the first place prize exceeded $100, the purse has grown in almost every subsequent year. Then in 2004, a court order allowed corporate advertising on the clothing of
race jockeys. A year later in 2005 the purse distribution was altered
to include the 5th placed horse.
Last updated: October 19, 2019