Your Kentucky Derby Questions Answered

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kentucky derby, churchhill downs

With Derby Day approaching on May 7, Louisville is already in full race mode.  You'll hear a lot about the Derby in upcoming blogs, but today, let's address some questions you may have about the race.

What is the Kentucky Derby?

The Kentucky Derby is an annual horse race held the first Saturday of May. The contenders are three-year-old thoroughbred horses. Traditionally run in just over two minutes, the race is nicknamed "the most exciting two minutes in sports."  In 1963, Northern Dancer won the race in an even two minutes.  Secretariat, who later won the Triple Crown, completed the race in 1:50 /5 in 1973.  The only other horse to break the record was Monarchos, who clocked in at 1:59.97 in 2001.

Who started the Derby?

In 1875, Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr., grandson of William Clark of the Lewis and Clark expedition brought the race to Louisville, long the homes of superior racehorses.  Clark modeled the race after the England's Epsom Derby and France's Grand Prix de Paris.  The first race, with 15 contenders, was run before 100,000 people; the winner was Aristides, who went on to come in second at the Belmont Stakes in New York a few weeks later.

Where is it held?

The Derby is held at Churchill Downs on land owned by John and Henry Churchill, relatives of Colonel Clark.  The track, originally 80 acres three miles south of downtown, was financed by 320-membership subscriptions of $320 each.

When is the Derby held?

Though the race has been held every mid-May since 1875, the date was formalized as the first Saturday on May in 1932 to allow horses to compete in two more races with big purses, the Preakness Stakes at the Pimlico Race Course, in Baltimore, Maryland, followed by the Belmont Stakes in Elmont, New York.  This Triple Crown of racing

What events make up the Derby?

The first race meet at Churchill Downs emulated the pattern at the Epsom Derby and included the Kentucky Derby, Kentucky Oaks and Clark Handicap.  Currently, the Kentucky Oaks race is held the day before the Derby itself, while the Clark Handicap is run on closing weekend.  Prior to the race, the horses parade to the post as the crowd sings Stephen Foster's "My Old Kentucky Home," the official state song.  The Derby is the major social event in Louisville, as well as well as the major fashion event.  Prominent wealthy spectators, decked out in hats and spring finery, sit in the stands, while thousands of other crowd the infield.

How else in the Derby celebrated in Louisville?

 In the 10 days preceding the Debby, Louisville prepares for the race with a festival that includes balloon races, a sternwheel steamboat race on the Ohio River, a Pegasus parade, fireworks, concerts, and a coronation ball.  Numerous parties throughout the city continue the celebration.

Around Derby time, the most popular foods in Louisville include burgoo, a thick stew of beef, chicken, pork and vegetables, along with Kentucky ham and biscuits.  The official beverage of the race (and the days leading up to and following the race) is the mint julep, a sweet drink made of bourbon, mint, and sugar syrup.

Why is the Derby call  the Run for the Roses?

The winner of the Kentucky Derby is congratulated with a blanket of 554 red roses.  Thirteen years earlier, a New York socialite, E. Berry Wall, offered roses to ladies at a post-Derby party.  Colonel Clark liked the idea and made the rose the official flower of the race.  By 1896, the tradition of weaving them into a blanket to drape on the winner became the norm - except in 2008, when Big Brown, who hated flowers, won the race. The name "Run for the Roses" was popularized in 1980 in a tune by the late Dan Fogelburg.

Lyrics | Dan Fogelberg lyrics - Run For The Roses lyrics

Yum! Brands at the Races?

Yum! Brands, the local fast-food company with naming rights to Louisville's new convention center, is also the corporate sponsor the Derby. Sine2006, the race has officially been "The Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands."

Derby Weekend is a great time to come to Louisville, as Derby Day packages abound to accommodate visitors to the Derby.  Looking to stay?  My team and I at  Younger Group Real Estate can show you affordable homes within your budget in Butchertown, St. Matthews, The Highlands, and other great Louisville neighborhoods. We know Louisville!

Comments (5)

Cheryl Brewer
Mike Bowman - Grapevine, TX
Selling Homes since 1997

Sounds like fun! I would like to go someday. Are the tickets hard to get?

Mar 30, 2011 05:24 PM
Mollie Younger
Louisville, KY
Younger Group Real Estate

The Derby is a fun event, Cheryl. Tickets for the stands are sold out a year in advance, though you may get tickets as part of a travel package. However, you can get a ticket to stand in the infield up until the day of the race.

Mar 30, 2011 05:40 PM
Hrisco & Associates
Hrisco & Associates - Roanoke, TX
Roanoke Homes for Sale - Roanoke Neighborhoods

With All due respect to Louisville, I had a mint julep at a bar in Boston a couple of years ago the day of the race.  The bar had girls in dresses and the big spring hats promoting the drinks, with Makers Mark bourbon, is it not the official bourbon of the derby?  It had to be the nastiest drink I think I ever had.  It probably could have run a car for a month as much alcohol as was in there.

Mar 31, 2011 06:21 AM
Mollie Younger
Louisville, KY
Younger Group Real Estate

LOL,John, the mint julep is the official drink of the Derby, but if you don't like sweet drinks, it's not for you. The strong alcohol content is why there are many hotel Derby packages for the event weekend.

Apr 08, 2011 05:05 AM

Looking for hotel rooms for the Kentucky Derby? Visit and or call 917-224-1231.

They also have luxury and affordable hotel rooms for Super Bowl, Final Four, Fifa World cup, Olympics and Masters.

Apr 11, 2011 06:25 AM