10 Fun Facts About the Kentucky Derby
The Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs is one of the most historic, iconic sporting events in the world. This horse race is not only known for its riding, but its fashion statements are also some of the most exciting of the year. Here are 10 fun facts about the Kentucky Derby for you to remember as you place bets and cheer on your favorite jockeys and horses.
1. You can thank explorers Lewis and Clark for the Kentucky Derby… sort of.
Exploring must be in the blood of the Clark family. In 1872, the grandson of William Clark, Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr., went to see the races in Surry, England. He also visited Paris, France, where he met a group that formed the French Jockey Club. He was so impressed that he decided to make his own move to Kentucky when he returned home. He started the Louisville Jockey Club. They raised enough money to build the track that would one day be known as Churchill Downs.
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3. The first Derby was held over a century ago.
The first day of racing at the track that would be named Churchill Downs one day was on Monday, May 17, 1875. It was the second of four races that day. The crowd boasted about 10,000 fans that day. For the first race, 15 -year old Thoroughbreds made their way around a 1.5-mile track. Oliver Lewis and his chestnut Thoroughbred Aristides finished first in 2:37. The 19-year-old jockey never raced again. He won a whopping $2,850 that day.
4. Mint Juleps are a Derby obsession.
60,000 pounds of ice, 10,000 Old Forester Mint Julep cocktail bottles, and 1,000 pounds of mint come together each year for the Kentucky Derby. They serve about 120,000 mint juleps to excited observers. With all of this alcohol, they also sell over five tons of food at the concession stands.
5. “The Curse Of Post 17” is a real thing to some people.
There has never been a horse starting from Post 17 that has won the Kentucky Derby. No one knows why post 17 hasn’t produced a winner yet. Though the post hasn’t produced winners, it still tied with Post 19 with betting. Post 19 and Post 17 have the lowest percentage of riders and starters that finish in the money.
6. The fastest horse to win the Derby won in an astounding 1:59:4.
In 1973, a horse named Secretariat ran the race in 1:59:4. No other horse has been able to beat this time in decades. Secretariat was large, straight, and powerful. Many people believe his large heart and long stride led him to become the fastest horse to win the Kentucky Derby. His average speed of 37.7 mph in the Triple Crown races set world records as well.
7. The Derby has never missed a year even during the World Wars and the coronavirus pandemic.
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The Kentucky Derby hasn’t missed a year since it began in 1875. It was even run during the World Wars when almost all professional sports were canceled. It has been postponed a few times from its traditional May date. In January 1945, horse racing was actually banned because it was seen as a waste of resources. Many men were serving in the war, so they could not work in track operations either. The ban was finally lifted in May of 1945, so the Derby was simply pushed back until June. Even though many people couldn’t travel long distances since the war had just ended, over 75,000 people attended that year. The coronavirus pandemic forced the race to shift from May to September. The trainers had to adjust their training and schedules to focus on the move.
8. Though the race is dominated by men, there have been women racers.
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In 1970, Diane Crump rode Fathom in the Derby and placed 15th. There is no reason there haven’t been many female jockeys to ride in the race, but only six women have ever ridden at Churchill Downs. Though Crump and her horse didn’t win on their first try, a woman named Shelley Riley came in second in 1992. Patti Cooksey, the second woman to compete in the Derby, can also say she was the first woman to ever ride her horse in the Preakness Stakes. She won sixth place.
9. The trophy is the only solid-gold one presented in American sports.
The Kentucky Derby trophy is 22 inches tall, made of 29 gold parts. It’s made by New England Sterling Company from Massachusetts. The trophy is solid gold, while the base is jade. It’s composted of 14-karat yellow gold with a bit of green gold. The top boasts a rider and its horse made of 18-karat yellow gold. There is also an 18-karat horseshoe on the front.
10. The Derby doubles as a fashion show.
The fashion goes all the way back to Clark’s founding of the Derby when he saw it as an elite event. He wanted people to wear their best attire for the race. The Kentucky Derby became a place where people showed off their best spring fashions. Derby hats are arguably the best fashion statements each year. Women and men love to show off their Derby fashions.
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