The Most Exciting 2 Minutes in Sports - The Kentucky Derby

Updated on May 04, 2019. Originally added on May 04, 2017 by Kathy Pinna
On the first Saturday of every May we have a day of horse racing, mint juleps, wonderful (and often extravagant) hats, spectators singing “My Old Kentucky Home” - and the chance to win big money. Called "The Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports" or "The Fastest Two Minutes in Sports" for the approximate time it takes to run the race, what isn't there to like about the Kentucky Derby?

The Most Exciting 2 Minutes in Sports - The Kentucky Derby

The Governor of Kentucky with his entourage at Churchill Downs in 1901

In 1872, the grandson of William Clark - of Lewis and Clark fame - visited Europe. His visit included attending the Epsom Derby (run since 1780 in England) and the Grand Prix de Paris Longchamps, a popular horse race in France. Upon returning home, Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr. was inspired to create the same kind of race in the United States.
Gov. Beckham, Kentucky

Clark's uncles, John & Henry Churchill, donated the land for a racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky and on May 17th, 1875, the first Kentucky Derby was run at Churchill Downs.

Oliver Lewis

Oliver Lewis

Jockey Oliver Lewis won the first Derby on Aristides. In fact, 13 of the 15 jockeys were African-American. At this time, horse racing was the most popular sport in the U.S. and African-Americans were the superstars of horse racing, winning 15 of the first 28 runnings of the Kentucky Derby.


1896 fashion for the Kentucky Derby

Emilie C Kirchdorfer, Kentucky Derby Day

Even in the early days of the Derby, fashion was important - just like the Epsom Derby in the United Kingdom.

Derby Day 1901, Louisville, Ky.

Coming down the stretch in 1901.

The 1920 Derby

Jockey Ted Rice on Paul Jones.
1920 Kentucky Derby - Paul Jones Racehorse

A blanket of 554 red roses is draped over each winner of the Kentucky Derby - giving rise to another nickname "The Run for the Roses." The tradition originated in 1883 when a New York socialite presented roses to ladies at a post-Derby party that Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr. attended.


Man Of War with Ray Van Tassel

Retired Thoroughbred Man O' War. Dying at the age of 30, Man O'War is considered to be the best racehorse of all time. With a stride of 28 feet, he won 20 of his 21 races. While he never ran in the Derby, he is the ancestor of many Derby winners.


Winner of the 1973 Derby
Secretariat, Kentucky Derby winner

The first Triple Crown winner in 25 years, he is often ranked second in racing history to Man O' War. A movie was made about him in 2010.

There's more to the Derby than racing

In this 1955 photo, a vendor is selling mint juleps in the stand. A mint julep most often consists of bourbon (Kentucky, of course!), shaved ice, and mint.
Kentucky Derby - 1955

The hats! This 1963 photo of a fan shows one of the hallmarks of Derby day - a big hat.
Kentucky Derby - 1963

And fashion!
Kentucky Derby Fashionable Couple



And betting

Virginia Bookie

In the early 20th century, bookies took bets and tracked them by hand. This bookie in 1941 Warrenton Virginia is figuring out the odds for the Derby.

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