A Gallop Through Derby History

Kentucky DerbySaturday May 7, 2016 marks the 142nd Kentucky Derby. In comparison, the world series is 113 years old, and of course, the Super Bowl just had its 50th installment this year.

With such a long and storied history, you’d be forgiven if you forgot where it all began.

The event started when Meriwether Lewis Clark, grandson of William Clark, took a trip to Europe and witnessed the Epsom Derby.

The Epsom Derby had been a long running race by the time Clark witnessed it. Originally called the Epsom Oaks after the estate on which it took place, the race was renamed when the 12th Earl of Derby won the naming rights in a coin toss.

The Earl’s horse won a race at Epsom and he and his friend, Sir Charles Bunbury, agreed to flip a coin to decide who’d get to name the contest moving forward. Luckily, the Earl won, and horse races have been known as Derbies ever since.

Meriwether saw one of these derbies in 1872, and he was so impressed that he returned to America determined to create the same kind of spectacle there.

His uncles John and Henry Churchill gifted him the land to build a racetrack, and in 1875, the racetrack opened. The rest is history.

Unbelievable Kentucky Derby Facts

Kentucky DerbyAfter more than a hundred years, it goes without saying that some unbelievable things have happened at and around the Derby.

For example, did you know that since 1930, with the installation of the starting gate, no horse has won the Derby from the 17 spot?

Historically, the post draw which determines which horse will run in which position takes place a couple days before the race itself. One thing is for sure, every jockey will be hoping that they don’t end up in the dreaded 17th spot.

For spectators, the traditions around the Derby are deeply engrained. Big hats, and wearing your Sunday best is expected. Another common Kentucky Derby standby is the Mint Julep.

Kentucky DerbyMint Juleps are such an automatic part of the Derby that 120,000 of them will be served at the Churchill Downs racetrack over the course of the weekend. 

So if you can’t make it out to Kentucky this weekend, just kick back at home, put on your best clothes, find a big hat, make yourself a mint julep, and watch the race from the comfort of your own sofa. It’ll be exactly the same.