The Kentucky Derby will hold its 142nd race on May 7th, 2016. But, as much as you hear about Derby Day, there are many things that the average person might not know about the genteel event. And...the facts are off!
- It's Steeped in Tradition
The Kentucky Derby was inaugurated in 1875. It was won by a horse named Aristides ridden by Oliver Lewis. It's part of the American Triple Crown, along with the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. However, those races both took a few years off, and the Kentucky Derby has been held every year since then, making it an unbroken tradition.
The trappings of the race themselves are also long-held and revered. The blanket of roses for the winning horse, the use of Stephen Collins Foster's "My Old Kentucky Home" as an anthem, the celebrity hobnobbing, the big hats, and the mint juleps have all been part of the fabric of the event for a long time. Even the "souvenir glasses"—which bear all the markings of a modern cash-in—began in the 1930s, due to people stealing the clubhouse's regular glasses.
- It's a Source of Artistic Creativity
If you've ever turned on the TV during the Derby, you've probably heard Dan Fogelberg's "Run for the Roses," a song that focuses on the lineage, tradition, and struggle of the race. The Derby even inspired films like Secretariat. There are so many songs about horse racing that it's almost impossible to tease out what's what, but there are entire articles dedicated to the best music to play on race day. The Derby itself has an official playlist. Of course, not all of that art is celebratory.
- It Was the Birthplace of Gonzo Journalism
That's right, Hunter S. Thompson first went off the rails at the Kentucky Derby. Assigned to cover the Derby as a sportswriter for Scanlan's Monthly, Thompson and his illustrator Ralph Steadman found themselves faced with a deadline and no story. Rather than ask for an extension, Thompson began ripping pages out of his personal notebook, numbering them, and sending them in. The resulting article titled, "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved,” was a bizarre screed about the drunkenness, lewdness, and general debauchery surrounding the event and its celebration. The article didn't make an enormous splash, but fellow journalists sat up and took notice, and before too long, Thompson had created an entire movement.
- Shaun Bridgmohan
Shaun Bridgmohan was the first Jamaican to compete in the Kentucky Derby. Bridgmohan has amassed over 1,700 wins over the course of his career, which began in 1997 and continues to this day.
- Two Jockeys Hold the Record for Most Wins
Two people hold the record for the most Kentucky Derby wins with five apiece. One is Eddie Arcaro, a former bootlegger who finally found a way to turn his diminutive size into an advantage and became the only rider to win the Triple Crown twice. The other is Bill Hartack, who was the first rider to win $3 million in a single season and who rode 4,272 winning horses in 21,535 mounts.
- The Track Record Has Stood Since 1973
It's been 43 years since Secretariat set the track record at Churchill Downs, and nobody has been able to beat his time of 1:59.4 minutes. Not only did Secretariat set a record that day, but he also somehow managed to improve on his time for every successive quarter—he got faster as the race went on!
- It's Been Abridged
The original Kentucky Derby was a 1.5-mile race, but that was deemed too exhausting for three-year-old horses. Therefore, they cut it back to 1.25 miles in 1896, and they've rolled with that ever since. While changing a racecourse may seem odd, it's actually incredibly stable compared to the Preakness, which has been run at seven different distances since it began in 1873.