The Kentucky Derby is far from a simple sporting event and social gathering – dating back to 1875, it is a piece of American history. The Derby is the longest-running sporting event in the history of the United States. While the races officially began fifteen years before the turn of the century, the idea started to formulate in 1872 by none other than Meriwether Lewis Clark, the grandson of William Clark. During his travels in Europe, Clark attended the Epson Derby in England and built a relationship with the French Jockey Club, who later established the Grand Prix de Paris Longchamps. After receiving such inspiration during his travels, and the help of his uncles John and Henry Churchill, the Louisville Jockey Club was built. The first Kentucky Derby race took place on May 17th and consisted of 15 horses racing 1.5 miles.
In 1931 the Derby was permanently scheduled for the first Saturday in May. The popularity of a “Triple Crown winner” allowed for a consistent racing schedule for horses that would race in the Kentucky Derby, then the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. In the 99th running Derby in 1973, Secretariat won with the fastest time to date, completing in 1:59:40, and then continued to win the Triple Crown for the first time in 24 years.
Along with these monumental moments, there is another “monumental” aspect to the Kentucky Derby. The Twin Spires has sat atop the Churchill Downs grandstand and passed by every Derby winner since 1895. Alongside that, Stephen Foster’s 19th-century ballad, “My Old Kentucky Home,” has been a part of the Derby since at least 1930. The song is also the official state song for the commonwealth of Kentucky. A choir of thousands sings the chorus during the walk onto the track and parade in front of the stands.
“The Run for Roses” has taken a more literal turn by the over 400 red flowers sewn together and draped around the neck of the winning horse within the winner’s circle. In 1904, the rose was made the official flower of the Derby. Burgoo King was the first winner to be adorned with the garland in 1932.
Of course, the Kentucky Derby cannot be complete without its signature drink, the mint julep. This mixture of bourbon, sugar, and mint has achieved somewhat of a celebrity status due to its association with the Derby.
With such a rich history and beloved traditions, the Kentucky Derby will be watched all across the country this Saturday.