Kentucky Derby Primer

The Kentucky Derby is less than three weeks away. It is the most watched horse race of the year in the United States, and is widely considered one of the most important sporting events in the country.

Yet there are some people who don’t know a whole lot about horse racing or the Triple Crown. And that’s okay, the Daily Racing Blog is here to help.

The Kentucky Derby is the first jewel of the Triple Crown, a series of races that includes the Preakness Stakes two weeks later at Pimlico in Baltimore and concludes with the Belmont Stakes three weeks after that in New York. 

Today we are going to concentrate on just the Kentucky Derby. Starting with the basics of Who, What, When, Where, and Why.

WHO: The Best Three-Year-Old Racehorses. The Kentucky Derby is restricted to 3-year-old racehorses, male or female, so a Thoroughbred is eligible for the race only once in their lives. Horses must be nominated to the Triple Crown and then qualify for the Kentucky Derby through a series of races that award points to the top four finishers. The Kentucky Derby field is restricted to 20 runners.

WHAT: The Run For The Roses. The Kentucky Derby is often called the Run For The Roses because the Winner has a blanket of roses draped over his/her back after the race. The race itself is a 1 ¼-mile race on a dirt main track that is a test of both speed and stamina. It is the oldest continuously held major sporting event in America. The race also is commonly referred to as The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports.

WHEN: The First Saturday in May. The Kentucky Derby is held every year (every year when the world is not in the midst of a pandemic) on the first Saturday in May. From 1946 through 2019, the race was held on the first Saturday of the month of May until COVID-19 in 2020 forced the postponement of the race until September. The Kentucky Derby returns to its rightful spot on the calendar this year, as the 147th Kentucky Derby will be held on May 1st.

WHERE: Churchill Downs. Kentucky is the nexus of Thoroughbred racehorses in the United States with roughly 44% of all racehorses being bred in the Bluegrass State. Logically it makes sense that the most important race in the country would take place in Kentucky. Churchill Downs in Louisville is the host track of the Kentucky Derby under its famed Twin Spires that sit atop the racetrack grandstand. The track opened in 1875 and held the first Kentucky Derby the same year- Won by ARISTIDES. The track is named for John and Henry Churchill, who leased 80 acres of land to their nephew, Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr. (grandson of explorer William Clark).

WHY: Inspired Abroad. The history of the Kentucky Derby begins in 1872, when the aforementioned Mr. Clark traveled to Europe and attended the Epsom Derby in England, a race run since 1780. Inspired by his trip and experience in Europe, he set out to create a similar racing event in the U.S. On May 17, 1875, the track opened its gates for the first time and the Louisville Jockey Club sponsored the inaugural Kentucky Derby. Fifteen 3-year-old Thoroughbred racehorses competed in the (then) 1 ½-mile race in front of approximately 10,000 fans.

In the years since that first running, the Kentucky Derby has evolved and become the most important event on the racing calendar as well as the main focus of horse racing fans every spring- a time when 3-year-old racehorses frequently mature mentally and develop physically into elite athletes.

We hope you enjoyed this brief Kentucky Derby history lesson, and rest assured there will be more Derby knowledge throughout the next couple of weeks.

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