Kentucky Derby Part 1 - The History

It's been called the most exciting two minutes in sports, the run for the roses and the first jewel of the triple crown. Around here the Kentucky Derby is a pretty big deal. We have parades, steamboat races, hot air balloon festivals and fireworks. Chow wagons, bed races, marathons and galas, all leading up to the big day.

Back in 1875, the year of the first Derby, an estimated 10,000 people watched the race live when the track was still known as the Louisville Jockey Club. The land the track was built on was leased from the owner's uncles, John and Henry Churchill, but was not referred to as Churchill Downs until 1883.

The largest crowd ever to watch a Derby at the track was in 1974, the year after Secretariat won the triple crown, when 163,628 crammed into the infield. After 1974, a large turf track was added inside the dirt track which drastically cut the amount of spectator space.

The famous twin spires seen in this picture weren't constructed until 1894, and despite the marketing campaign to get people interested, the track didn't show a profit until twenty years later.

The first radio broadcast of the Derby aired on May 16, 1925, and 1952 marked the first time the Derby was shown on network television.

This year marks the 137th consecutive running of the Kentucky Derby which makes it the longest running continuously held sporting event in the United States.

In 1943, with World War II going on, the government put pressure on Churchill Downs to cancel because of the wartime restrictions on strategic materials; rubber for tires and gasoline for cars. Colonel Matt Winn, the President of Churchill Downs at the time, vowed to run the Derby even if only ten spectators showed up. Working with Louisville local government, he organized public transit to Churchill Downs and the "street car" Derby was held. (Won by Count Fleet, who went on to win the Triple Crown.)

It's surprising to meet anyone from this part of the country who hasn't watched the Kentucky Derby either live or on TV. Have you seen it? Maybe even had Derby parties in your neck of the woods? I'll have parts two, three and four this week and next, and you'll want to tune in for The Kentucky Derby Contest of Awesome coming up next week. The prizes are really spectacular.


Rogue Mutt said...

It's even worse than the Super Bowl; all that build up and then it's only two minutes long! Is there at least an opening act, like a comedian or singing group or something? Or do people just sit there for hours drinking mint julips?

Kentucky Derby Betting said...

Rogue Mutt, funny you put it that way but there is much more to the Kentucky derby then the betting and mint julips. It's a fashion statement for all the rich single woman to show there stuff " I like this part" along with rich history of the kentucky derby itself.

Old Kitty said...

This sounds like such fun!!!!

Take care

Lisa Potts said...

RM, there is a whole day of racing before the Derby. And I can think of worse things to do besides spending a May afternoon drinking mint juleps.

Lydia K said...

I grew up in Preakness country, so it was talked about here and there. I'd love to see the Kentucky Derby in person!

Rachel Morgan said...

Aside from reading this post I've only ever heard the words "Kentucky Derby" in passing on American TV shows/movies. Thanks for the education :-)

Madeleine said...

Looks like quite an event :O)

Amie Kaufman said...

The Kentucky Derby's such an evocative race. Even here in Australia I've seen it and heard about it, and I can imagine it. The atmosphere must be fantastic.

Here, we have the Melbourne Cup, the richest handicap race in the world. It's 'the race that stops a nation'. Literally--there's a public holiday for it!

J.L. Campbell said...

Even over here, we know about the Kentucky Derby. Many in Jamaica love the horseracing. Need I mention the gambling aspect? :D

Back to Top