The Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby is the most popular of the Triple Crown races and takes place the first Saturday of May each year. Held at Churchill Downs in Louisville, the first Kentucky Derby took place in 1875 and marked the beginning of the modern Triple Crown. The Derby has seen many great horses triumph and fail as the race is longer than many horses are used to. The distance of the Triple Crown races present a true testament to a horse’s stamina and endurance. The great Secretariat set the record for the fastest Kentucky Derby time with 1:59.40 in 1973. Only a handful of two have broken the two minute mark since then, one of them being the runner-up to Secretariat.

The Kentucky Derby consists of 1 ¼ miles (10 furlongs) on a dirt track and is sometimes referred to as the “Run for the Roses,” because the winning horse is presented with a large wreath of roses. As of 2010, the purse consisted of over $2 million, $1,425,000 going to the winning team. The remaining money was spread out over the next four horses.

The Derby is surrounded by tradition. Before the running of the race, the song “My Old Kentucky Home” is sung by the audience. The serving of mint juleps is also a tradition that many fans partake in. The infield of the track is opened up for audience members, but these fans usually cannot see any of the race. Many women wear extravagant hats and outfits, while it is traditional for men to wear suit and tie.

While the Derby is an excuse for a social gathering for most casual racing fans, it truly is one of the more difficult races for a horse to win. Top trainers and owners work their horses especially for the race, sometimes starting their racing careers a year before, when the horses are two years old. Horses must qualify for the Derby by proving they are one of the top horses in the country. Some of the more prestigious of the qualifying events include the Florida Derby, the Wood Memorial, and the Arkansas Derby.

Take a look at the 2011 Kentucky Derby Insider.