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On This Day in History: The First Kentucky Derby Took Place

girl riding a horse

On this day in 1875, Churchill Downs saw its first Kentucky Derby.

Since its first race in 1875, the Kentucky Derby has been the longest-running sports event in the United States.  Also known as the “Run for the Roses,” the Derby features three-year-old thoroughbreds that race 1.25 miles.  Today, the race continues to be held at the Churchill Downs race track where 150,000 spectators gather for the “the greatest two minutes in sports.”

The first Kentucky Derby was hosted by Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr., grandson of explorer William Clark (of the Lewis and Clark Expedition).  Through fundraising and land donations from his uncles, Clark managed to build Churchill Downs and found the Louisville Jockey Club.  On May 17, 1875, Clark opened the racetrack for the first Kentucky Derby.

In remeberance of the first Kentucky Derby, here are some fascinating facts about the race.

  • Aside from the actual races and the betting, the Kentucky Derby is synonymous with mint juleps and women wearing outrageous hats.
  • When the horses enter the track before the race, it’s traditional for the crowd to sing a 19th-century ballad titled “My Old Kentucky Home.”
  • The Derby got its nickname “Run for the Roses” when Meriwether Clark started awarding the winner of the race a bouquet of roses in 1884. Since the 1930s, it’s customary for the winning horse to be draped in a garland of roses.
  • In 1970, Diane Crump became the first female jockey to ride in the Derby. The race has yet to be won by a female jockey, though Shelley Riley came closest in 1992 when she came in second.
  • Three female horses have won the Derby: Regent in 1915, Genuine Risk in 1980, and Winning Colors in 1988.
  • The 2019 Derby will have a purse of $3 million, with the winner taking home $1.86 million.
  • The Derby has never been cancelled for inclement weather. The 2018 event set the record for the wettest Derby ever with over 2.31 inches of rainfall.
  • While the first Kentucky Derby was held on May 17, the race is now held on the first Saturday in May.

Join us at The Maria Sanchez Show as we learn more about the Kentucky Derby in honor of its anniversary.  Don’t forget to check out our latest program, Shadow Politics with Senator Michael D. Brown.  Tune in on Sundays at 4:00 p.m. PDT/7:00 p.m. EDT.

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