A Quick History of the Kentucky Derby


By Mac Bettersworth, reporter

Everyone knows the Kentucky Derby, it’s the first race of the triple crown. But how did it start?


The first derby was held by Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr. Clark, who had been inspired by horses he saw while in Europe, gathered money and built Churchill Downs on land he had acquired from his uncles. Known for his parties, Clark saw his racetrack as a place where stylish residents of the city could gather.


May 17, 1875, the first ever Kentucky Derby was held, attended by over 10,000 people. The horse that would go down as the first ever winner was Aristides, ridden by the jockey Oliver Lewis.


Secretariat, the 1973 winner, has the fastest time in the history of the race, clocking in at 1:59.40, a record that still stands today.


While horses are brought onto the track for show, the crowd sings Kentucky’s state song, “My Old Kentucky Home” by Steven Foster. This tradition is thought to have begun in 1921. Many spectators will drink mint julep, a southern-style drink made with burbon, sugar, mint served over crushed ice.


A tradition started in 1884 when Meriwether Clark began giving the winners a bouquet of red roses. In 1925, a New York sports columnist called the derby the Run for the Roses, and since 1930 it has become customary to place a garland of roses around the winning horse’s neck.


There have been 144 total derbies run, and never once has it been postponed. Through rain or shine the horses would race, so for the first time in its history, the Kentucky Derby was not held in May.