The first leg of the triple crown of thoroughbred racing, the 144-year-old Kentucky Derby is followed by the Preakness Stakes in May and the Belmont Stakes in June. The race runs 1 ¼ miles and takes place at the Churchill Downs dirt race track in Louisville, Kentucky.
The derby features one of the biggest fields in racing with 20 horses taking to the track. In order to qualify for the Kentucky Derby, horses and jockeys must compete and earn enough points in the 35 races that make up the Road to the Kentucky Derby. The horses that finish in the top four positions of these races earn points and at the end of the last race, the 20 horses with the most points are rewarded with a place at the starting post and a chance to win the Kentucky Derby Race.
History of the Kentucky Derby
The first derby took place in 1875 and was witnessed by 10,000 spectators. In the following 144 years the crowd has grown by the thousand and now a crowd of up to 150,000 fill Churchill Downs to witness the derby and the most exciting two minutes in sports.
In 1925 the Kentucky Derby was first broadcast over the radio and drew an audience of up to 6 million listeners. With the advent of television, the Derby made its debut on local TV in 1949 and quickly progressed to national telecast coverage in 1952.
The Kentucky Derby has garnered the nickname Run for the Roses due to the tradition dating back to 1896, when the winner of the race, Ben Brush, was given an arrangement of roses. The red rose was made the official flower of the race in 1906 and the current garland of 400 red roses sewn together was first presented to Burgoo King the winner of the derby in 1932.
The famous twin spires that tower over the grandstands at Churchill Downs are an iconic landmark of the Derby. They were designed by Joseph Dominic Baldez and date back to 1895.
The Kentucky Derby Records
The Kentucky Derby record time stands at 1:59.40, and was set in 1973 by perhaps the most famous thoroughbred horse of all time, Secretariat.
Eddie Arcaro and Bill Hartack are tied as the most successful jockeys at the derby. Arcaro won in 1938, 1941, 1945, 1948 and 1952 while Hartack rode to glory in 1957, 1960, 1962, 1964 and 1969.
Ben A Jones holds the record for the most successful trainer at the derby with 6 winners from 1938 to 1952, while Calumet Farm is the most successful owner with 8 Derby winners from 1942 to 1968.
The longest shot to win the Derby was the unfancied 91 to 1 shot Donerail in 1913.
Winners of the Kentucky Derby
144 horses have won the Kentucky Derby, here’s a look at the winners of the last 5 years.
- 2014: California Chrome
- 2015: American Pharaoh
- 2016: Nyquist
- 2017: Always Dreaming
- 2018: Justify
The Kentucky Derby Winnings
The purse for the winner is a whopping $2 million, with the victor to take an estimated $1.25 million home with them.
The Kentucky Derby Festival
In the weeks preceding the race, a host of events and activities take place. The Thunder Over Louisville airshow and firework display usually start the festivities.