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Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs
© Louisville Convention and Visitors Center

The Kentucky Derby

Louisville, Kentucky

Written by Julie Greiner
The Kentucky Derby is a mile and a quarter Grade I stakes race for three-year old colts and fillies. The Derby is the oldest continuous sporting and cultural event in the United States. It was first run on May 17, 1875, and was modeled after the Epsom Derby, which has been run in England since 1780. Secretariat had the fastest winning time in 1973 - 1:59 s/5. In 1974 163,628 fans attended the Derby... marking its 100th running and largest attendance. The Kentucky Derby is the first race in the
Triple Crown - a series of championship races for three-year old colts and fillies. The Preakness Stakes is run in Maryland two weeks later and then three weeks later the Belmont Stakes in run in New York. There have only been eleven horses that have ever won all three races; the last was Affirmed in 1978.

Churchill Downs - Home of the Kentucky Derby

The track formally opened May 17, 1875 with four scheduled races. The winner of the first race was Bonaventure and Aristides won the featured race... the Kentucky Derby. Aristides was ridden
View of the Entrance to the Kentucky Derby Museum
© Kentucky Derby Museum
by Oliver Lewis, an African-American. Horse racing in Kentucky dates back to 1789 when the first race course was established in Lexington. Col. M. Lewis Clark came up with the plan of a Louisville Jockey Club while traveling in England and France in 1983. Clark intended his racetrack to showcase the Kentucky horse breeding industry. The name "Churchill Downs" was first referenced at the Kentucky Derby of 1883. The track was incorporated as Churchill Downs in 1973. The Twin Spires were built in 1895 and are a recognized landmark.

Kentucky Derby Museum

The World's Largest Equine Museum is one of Kentucky's premier attractions that captures the pride, tradition and excitement of "the greatest two minutes in sports." The newly renovated Museum consists of
two floors of exciting exhibits and is dedicated to expanding the public awareness, appreciation and understanding of Thoroughbred racing and the Kentucky Derby - the first jewel in racing's Triple Crown. Special features include Derby and Thoroughbred racing artifacts, memorabilia and fine art. The research library, extensive archives and educational programs are available for all ages. The new expansion and remodeling project added 10,000 square feet to the existing Museum's 46,000 square feet and renovated the Gift Shop and Derby Cafe. The first floor of the museum
View of an Interactive Video Game in the Kentucky Derby Museum
© Kentucky Derby Museum
has three major exhibit groups - The Derby, The Horses and Their Owners and Trainers and The Jockeys and the Backside Crews. The Kentucky Derby Museum was formally opened on April 28, 1985. The computer interactive exhibits include: "Warner L. Jones, Jr. Time Machine" which allows visitors to select footage of Derbys as far back as 1918, "Place Your Bets" that illustrates pari-mutual wagering using taped races from Churchill Downs, and "The Stretch Test," to test Derby I.Q. The original modern electric starting gate from Churchill Downs was used for three Kentucky Derbys between 1940 and 1977. Visitors can sit
View of Kentucky Derby Festival Fireworks Display
© Louisville Convention and Visitors Center
on the life-size model horse and see what it is like to be a jockey in the starting gate. Guides offer walking tours of Churchill Downs and the paddock area (weather permitting) where the resident retired Thoroughbred Phantom On Tour, 1997 Derby contender, lives with his companion, Winston, a miniature horse. Backside Track Tours are available from March through November. The Finish Line Gift Shop offers a great selection of equine related gifts and souvenirs and lunch is available at the Derby Cafe.

Millionaire's Row at the Kentucky Derby

This race has held a special attraction for the rich and famous since its inception. Frank James,
View of a Thoroughbred Horse
© Wild Turkey Bourbon
the famed brother of Jesse James, bank-robber and outlaw, was sighted at the 15th race in 1889. However, a little less notorious and maybe more desireables have followed in attendance. The Duke of Windsor attended in 1951, the 100th running of the Kentucky Derby in 1974 attracted Princess Margaret, sister of the Queen of England, and her husband Lord Snowden. President Richard M. Nixon is the only President who attended while already serving as President. Seven men who later served as U.S. Presidents have attended - Harry S. Truman being the first. President George W. Bush and his father, past President George Bush Sr. attended the races' running in the year of 2000. Other notable attendees in years past includes such names as: Bob Hope, Claudett Colbert, Lana Turner, Howard Cosell, Walter Cronkite, Bobby Knight, Jerry Lewis, Zsa Zsa Gabor, General Norman Schwarzkopf, Lee Iaccoca...

Mint Juleps and The Hat Parade

Not to underplay the importance of the Kentucky Derby "post parade", the Hat Parade is held on the first Saturday in May. Women of fame and fortune of the Clubhouse and Paddock sport fashionable styles and the infield ladies are known for wild and crazy creations - all wishing the Derby will improve one's luck at picking a winner. The traditional beverage of Churchill Downs is the Mint Julep. An abundance of some 80,000 Mint Juleps are served over the two day period of the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby. The Mint Julep consists of shaved ice, mint, water, sugar and bourbon - Kentucky Bourbon.
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Last Updated: September 23, 2015