All horse lovers and racing fans know that the first Saturday in May is Kentucky Derby Day, often called, “the most exciting two minutes in sport.”
The Kentucky Derby is two weeks of Louisville fun and festivities to signal the start of spring: balloon races, steamboat races, dinner parties and just about anything else that injects over $217.8 million into the Louisville, Kentucky economy. Food favs include over 140,000 hotdogs and 32,400 jumbo shrimp and of course the mint julep! And, right at the Churchill Downs racetrack where the Derby is run there are 147 acres and places for 165,000 spectators to play, win, bet, show, see and be seen: there’s lots of room to Party On for the 140th Kentucky Derby!
Let’s look at some trivia and unknown facts about this momentous race that keeps hundreds of thousands of people glued to their TV sets, or for the lucky ones, cheering on their favourite from the infield or from the stands in their “Sunday best” on millionaires row where the seats can cost from $600 to $6,000.
• Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr., a grandson of William Clark, founded the Louisville Jockey Club in 1874, after watching races at England’s Epsom Derby and France’s Grand Prix de Paris. He leased 80 acres of land from his uncles, John and Henry Churchill, and this is how it all got started! You will remember Lewis and Clark, famous American explorers from your history lessons at school!
• The first Kentucky Derby was held in 1875 at Churchill Downs, the first year it was opened. 10,000 spectators arrived to watch the race that was 1 ½ miles in length. Years later in 1896 the race was changed to 1 ¼ miles and it remains so today. The 1875 winner was Aristedes ridden by Oliver Lewis out of a field of 15.
• In 1925 radio listeners heard the Kentucky Derby live for the first time by WGN in Chicago and WHAS in Louisville. In 1952, the race was seen on television for the first time.
• The mint julep is the official drink of The Kentucky Derby; the refreshing cocktail — served in a traditional silver cup and made with sugar, fresh mint, and Kentucky Whisky. It became the signature cocktail of Churchill Downs in 1938. Back then, a julep cost .75 cents. Today, a mint julep at the track is $11, or $1,000 in a collectors’ glass. Here’s a recipe for your racing party!
The Early Times Mint Julep Recipe
• 2 cups sugar
• 2 cups water
• Sprigs of fresh mint
• Crushed ice
• Early Times Kentucky Whisky
• Silver Julep Cups
Make a simple syrup by boiling sugar and water together for five minutes. Cool and place in a covered container with six or eight sprigs of fresh mint, then refrigerate overnight. Make one julep at a time by filling a julep cup with crushed ice, adding one tablespoon mint syrup and two ounces of Early Times Kentucky Whisky. Stir rapidly with a spoon to frost the outside of the cup. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint. Thanks to www.kentuckyderby.com
• Calvin Borel has won The Derby three times: the 2007 Kentucky Derby, the 2009 Kentucky Derby and the 2010 Kentucky Derby.
• This year, as in some years past, there is a female jockey in the field named Rosie Napravnik who is riding Vicar’s In Trouble. Other famous female jockeys include Patti Cooksey and Julie Krone. The first female to ride in the Derby was Diane Crump in 1970 and while she didn’t win she didn’t come last either!
• The three fillies who won the race include Regret in 1915, Genuine Risk in 1980 and Winning Colors in 1988.
• Who ran the fastest race? Bet you guessed Secretariat, and you are right. In 1973 he ran the race in a record time of 1:59:24, a record that stands. He actually got faster as the race went on, and we know today that his amazing burst of speed and ability to power past the competition was thanks to the large heart gene which some lucky horses have. Secretariat beat Sham who came in second that year in 1:59:80, and in 2001 Monarchos crossed the finish line in 1:59:97, all these horses finishing the Derby in under two minutes.
• If you placed a $2.00 bet on an underdog named Donerail in 1913, you would have gone home with a pocket full of money; $184.90 back then which was a lot of cash! This horse was a 91-1 shot to win and he did just that by half a length!
• What’s with the roses? Apparently a social butterfly named E. Berry Wall gave roses to the ladies at a post Derby party in the 1800s. Derby founder Meriwether Lewis decided to make the rose the official race flower. By 1896, roses were part of the winning horse’s ceremony and were draped across the winner’s withers. This is how we get the term ‘Run for the Roses’. Each satin blanket of roses contains exactly 564 roses: no more and no less! And besides the roses, the lucky horse owner gets a nice cheque for over 1 million help pay the hay bills! Some owners have had one of the roses dipped in silver for posterity. The winning jockey gets a bouquet of 60 long stemmed roses wrapped in 10 yards of ribbon.
• In two of the first three Derbys, the winning trainers were former slaves: Ansel Williamson (horse: Aristides, 1875) and Ed Brown (horse: Baden-Baden, 1877).
• This may be a horse race, but for the ladies, it is also a fashion bonanza and hats are bodacious, beautiful and bountiful. Some of the event’s most memorable hats are even on display at the Kentucky Derby Museum at Churchill Downs. You must, just must have a hat atop your head on Derby day!
• The Derby is the longest running continual sporting event in the USA. The Preakness took a break from 1891-93 and the Belmont didn’t run for two years in 1911-12. The Triple Crown didn’t start out as three consecutive races but evolved over time as owners sent their horses to these three races as they were the best paying races around. The Belmont and The Preakness actually started before the Derby: The Belmont in 1867 and The Preakness in 1873.
• Long before doping accusations would hit other sports, officials at the Kentucky Derby had their own doping issues to deal with. In 1968, Dancer’s Image took first in the Derby, but a post race urinalysis on the winning horse found traces of the nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory drug phenylbutazone. This drug was legal at other tracks, but it was illegal at Churchill Downs. Dancer’s Image was disqualified into last place, making Forward Pass the winner. The decision was upheld by the highest court in Kentucky, but because Churchill Downs later approved use of the drug, the disqualification of Dancer’s Image continues to be one of the more controversial decisions in American sports history. Currently, the official website of the Kentucky Derby lists both horses as winners.
• The luck was running out of the Kentucky Derby trophy until 1999. The impressive 14 karat gold trophy was first given in 1924, it stood 24 inches tall and was and is handcrafted requiring hundreds of man hours to create. It weighs 54 ounces and is unique in American sports. In 1999, in keeping with superstitions about a horseshoe turning down, the horseshoe on the trophy was turned with the open side up to keep in the good luck. In 2008 the trophy was worth $90,000! The owner receives a gold trophy while the trainer, the jockey and the breeder win a silver half size replica of the main gold trophy.
• Position is everything! There are 20 post positions to be had in the Derby and positions 1 and 5 have created the most winners followed by 4 and 10.
• 13 of the 15 riders in the first Kentucky Derby were African-American.
• In 1922, the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes were run on the same day.