Off the Topic: History of the Kentucky Derby

For this month’s Off the Topic article, we will explore the interesting history behind the Kentucky Derby, with help from NewsDay and  Why now?  Because (as you’ll read below) the first Kentucky Derby took place in the month of May back in 1875 and now the event occurs every year during the first weekend of May.  Congratulations to Orb, the 2013 Kentucky Derby winner! Enjoy!

Fun Facts:

1) The Derby debuted in 1875. Its model was the Epsom Derby, a 1½-mile grass race that has been run in England since 1780.

2) The idea for the Kentucky Derby was conceived by explorer Meriwether Lewis. In fact, the land where it is run was donated by his relatives, the Churchills – thus the name “Churchill Downs.”

3) Since 1946, it’s been run on the first Saturday in May.

4) The first 21 Derbys were contested at 1½ miles.  In 1896, it was scaled back to a 1¼-mile distance and hasn’t changed since.

5) Thirteen of the 15 riders in the first Derby were African-Americans. African-American jockeys won 15 of the first 28, with Isaac Murphy taking three victories.

6) The oldest living winner is Strike the Gold, 23, who stands at stud in Izmit, Turkey. Sea Hero, at 21 and the second oldest, also is a stallion there.

7) Fourteen female trainers have competed, with Shelley Riley coming closest to winning (2nd, Casual Lies, 1992).

8) Many celebrities have owned horses that have run in the Derby, including Steven Spielberg, George Steinbrenner and Burt Bacharach.

9) Donerail became the longest shot to win the Kentucky Derby in 1913, at 91-1 odds.

10) The fastest Derby ever was run by Secretariat in 1973. He ran the race in 1:59.4 and is the only horse to have ever come in faster than two minutes.

11) Although most Kentucky Derby winners have been males –geldings and stallions– three fillies have won the race. They were Favored Regret in 1915, Genuine Risk in 1980 and Winning Colors in 1988.

12) Horses running for the roses lose an average of fifteen to twenty-five pounds during the race.

13) Racing rules hold that no racehorse may have a name that contains more than 18 letters, so as to fit legibly on the racing forms.

14) Presidential candidate Richard Nixon was in the house when the only Derby winner to be disqualified for cheating was busted in 1968.


Most recent winners:

2013 – Orb, Joel Rosario

2012 – I’ll Have Another, Mario Gutierrez

2011 – Animal Kingdom, John Velazquez

2010 – Super Saver, Calvin Borel

2009 – Mine That Bird, Calvin Borel

2008 – Big Brown, Kent Desormeaux

2007 – Street Sense, Calvin Borel

2006 – Barbaro, Edgar Prado


3) “Kentucky Derby”


Do you have any fun Kentucky Derby facts you’d like to share? Post them below in the ‘Comment’ section.


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