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.