The Kentucky Derby is one of the most storied horse races in the United States. Dating back to 1875, the Kentucky Derby is the longest running sports event in the U.S. The “Run for the Roses”, as the Derby is called, takes place in Louisville, Kentucky on the first Saturday in May.
In 1872, Meriwether Clark, the grandson of famed explorer William Clark, attended the Epsom Derby in England. Determined to create a similar racetrack in the United States, he solicited John and Henry Churchill, his uncles, to give him the land for a track. He also organized the Louisville Jockey Club to raise funds for the track. The first Derby was run on May 17,1975. 10,000 people gathered to watch 15 three-year-old Thoroughbreds race 1 ½ miles. Aristides won the first Derby and went on to place second in the Belmont Stakes. The track was later shortened to 1 ¼ miles.
“The Run for the Roses”
- The Kentucky Derby is often called “The Run for the Roses”. This title refers to the garland of roses that is draped on the winning horse. The garland consists of over 400 roses sewn to a green backing, along with the seal of the Commonwealth, the Twin Spires, and the number of races that have been run in the Derby.
- Women traditionally wear elaborate hats, called fascinators, to the Kentucky Derby. It is unclear exactly how this tradition came to be, but it is theorized that hats were donned because the first Derby was advertised to women’s clubs as a social event. Hats were an essential accessory in the 1870s, and were used to convey status and wealth. Women arrived to the Kentucky Derby in hats meant to show off their status, and the tradition stuck.
- Mint juleps are the official drink of the Kentucky Derby. Early Times whiskey sponsors the event and is the whiskey used in the mint juleps that are sold. Mint juleps are traditionally made with bourbon, mint, ice, sugar, and water and are served in silver cups. The drink is popular in Kentucky and became associated with the Derby early on. Premium mint juleps may be purchased at the Kentucky Derby in place of the standard julep for $1,000 These drinks are made with imported ingredients, and the proceeds go to benefit retired race horses.
The Kentucky Derby maintains its status as a prestigious event, due to its history and traditions. Attending the Kentucky Derby is an event that goes far beyond watching the actual race. As the opening race of the Triple Crown series, it stands as a monument to the early days of horse racing in the United States.