The history of the kentucky derby

History of the Kentucky Derby

This year marks one of the most historically significant happenings to occur in horse history: The postponing of the Kentucky Derby due to COVID-19. This is huge, because Derby has been running uninterrupted for basically its entire existence–not even The Great Depression or the two World Wars caused a delay! 

The Kentucky Derby is one of the most significant horse-related events in the world, or at least the most significant horse-related event to the American general public. Since we’re all going to have to wait months until we can get to the track and see the postponed race occur, it may be a good idea to brush up a bit on the history of the race. See below for a quick rundown of some significant events in the long tradition of the most exciting two minutes in sports. 

It all began after the grandson of Clark, the very Clark from Lewis and Clark, returned from a trip to Europe wherein he was introduced to the weird wild world of horse racing. Clark enlisted the help of his uncles who have the very familiar name of Churchill, who granted him the land and assistance needed to establish a permanent racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky. 

The first race occurred in 1875, and it’s been going strong ever since, making it the longest-running sporting event in the United States. 10,000 people watched Aristides race 14 other horses 1.5 miles to the finish line. 8 years later, “Churchill Downs” became the designated name of the racetrack. 

In 1896 the horses were given a lucky break, in that the race was shortened from 1.5 miles to just 1 ¼ miles. In 1904 the red rose became the official flower of the Derby. 

In 1911 betting booths were introduced to the track. Before, pari-mutuel race betting was the only way to do it, and even that was outlawed for a while. Bookmakers were outlawed in the track after the restoration of pari-mutuel betting. 

In 1919 Sir Barton became the first horse to win the Triple Crown. In just a little over a month, Sir Barton won the Derby, Preakness, the Withers Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes. 

In 1925 the first network radio broadcast of the Derby happened. Around 6 million listeners tuned in to hear Flying Ebony win the race. The term Run for the Roses is also coined this year, by New York Evening Journal writer Bill Corum. 

In 1931 the first Saturday of May was officially designated the permanent Kentucky Derby race date.

In 1949 the first telegraph of the Kentucky Derby happens, broadcasting the 75th Derby to households with TV sets. 

1968 marks the first time a horse is disqualified for doping. Dancer’s Image tested positive for illegal medications, so the purse was taken from him and awarded to Forward Pass, the second-place winner. Remember, true winners never cheat. 

1973 was the year the most famous horse of them all won, the year Secretariat sets the record for finishing in just twenty seconds under two minutes and also goes on to win the Triple Crown. This was the 99th Kentucky Derby. The name Secretariat lives on as the most famous horse name in the world. 

In 1984 the world record for wagering on a single race was made, at just under 19 million dollars. 

In 1985 the Derby Museum was built. Maybe we can take a guess where a lot of that 19 million dollars went to. 

In 2015 American Pharoah wins the Triple Crown, the first horse to do so in over 30 years. 

And, in 2020, the Kentucky Derby is postponed because of a pandemic. However, it wasn’t enough to cancel the race altogether, and the tradition will still live on, only a few months later this year. 

Here’s to a good Derby this year, despite the circumstances! 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top