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20 Facts About 144 Years of Derby History!

Derby Days are here! The most famous horse race in the world and this year is celebrating it’s 144thyear, but did you know horse racing as a sport has its roots in ancient Greece nearly 2,000 years ago? The first Saturday in May marks the “Run for the Roses”, and all eyes are on Churchill Downs to enjoy the spectacle that comes with this incredibly demanding (for both rider and horse) race! In honor of the 20 horses that run each year, here are 20 facts about the Kentucky Derby!

  1. Even though it is the oldest sporting event in the United States, the Kentucky Derby is modeled after the Epsom Derby, which has been run in England since 1780!
  2. Currently the race is 1.25 miles in length, but that’s only been since 1896. The first 21 years of the Derby were run at 1.5 miles.
  3. Traditionally the Kentucky Derby is the first Saturday in May, but in 1945 the race was delayed until June 9th due to World War II.
  4. Qualifying for the Kentucky Derby is a series of 35 preparation races where the horses accumulate points to earn entry as one of the elite 20 horses to race.
  5. It’s well known that the Derby is one race of the Triple Crown, but were you aware that the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes are all run within 5 weeks of each other?
  6. Speaking of the Triple Crown – 12 horses have accomplished this feat, the first being Sir Barton in 1919, and most recently American Pharaoh in 2013.
  7. Secretariat is the most famous racehorse of all time, also a Triple Crown winner, but did you know both his Derby and Belmont times still stand as records after 43 years?!
  8. As much as we love the Triple Crown winners, we also love a long shot. The longest shot was Donerail way back in 1913, who won by half a length at 91.45-to-one odds!
  9. 2005 was a great year to bet on the long shots… Winner Giacomo was 50.3-to-one odds, and runner up Closing Argument was 50-to-one odds!
  10. In an interesting coincidence, former MLB player Hank Allen trained 1989’s sixth place horse Northern Wolf – Allen got his start in the MLB with the Philadelphia Phillies.
  11. There are actually two races associated with Derby weekend. Friday is the running of the Kentucky Oaks where the fillies race, and Churchill Downs gets decked out in pink.
  12. Typically, only colts run in the Derby, however a total of 40 fillies have raced, and 3 have taken home the roses!
  13. There are female jockeys as well, but only six have raced, the first being Diane Crump in 1970.
  14. The youngest jockey to win the Derby was only 15 years old – Alonzo “Lonnie” Clayton, the oldest was Bill Shoemaker, who was 54 when he won!
  15. The “Run for the Roses” has several rewards, the most iconic being the garland that drapes the winner at the end of the race, which is made from over 400 roses!
  16. The trophy presented at the end of the race is worth an estimated $200,000!
  17. Horse racing is a big deal in Kentucky! Derby Week contributes $400 million to the regional economy, and the sport contributes $4 billion to the Kentucky economy.
  18. Southern hospitality takes a bit of a rain check during Derby Week… Hotels that normally cost $55 per night run over $300 per night close to the Derby!
  19. Being a Kentucky native counts for something for the winners. In 144 years, 108 of the winning horses are able to say they have an “Old Kentucky Home”!
  20. Mint juleps… We love mint juleps! Over Derby weekend, Churchill Downs serves up 127,000 of the cocktails, amounting to 1,000 pounds of mint, 7,512 liters of bourbon, and 2,817 liters of simple syrup!

We are beyond excited to be at Churchill Downs again this year for the Kentucky Oaks & Derby! If you’re not joining us this year, click here to get more information about the limited packages we have available next year! Keep in mind, this is an extremely popular event, so book a package and start picking out your hat for 2019 now!


2019 Kentucky Oaks & Derby Hospitality

ISM® is independent of and is neither affiliated with nor endorsed by the Kentucky Derby® or Churchill Downs®.