The first Saturday in May is looked forward to by race horse fans around the world. Any enthusiast of Thoroughbred horse racing will be well familiar with the terms "The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports", "The Fastest Two Minutes in Sports" or "The Run for the Roses". The Kentucky Derby is a Grade 1 stakes race. There is no other race quite like it.
From the very first race held at Churchill Downs in May 1875, attendance at this great event has grown from 10,000 to an average of 150,000 people. At that first race of May 17, 1875, fifteen horses competed. Aristides and his rider, Oliver Lewis had the distinction and honor to be the very first winner. All derby participants are three year old Thoroughbreds. Since the 1882 winner, Apollo, no other horse has won the race without first racing at the age of two.
Since the late 18th century when Kentucky was settled, it has been famous for producing superior race horses. Louisville became the home of Churchill Downs, the premier racetrack founded by Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr., grandson of William Clark.
Secretariat, the Thoroughbred that was owned by Meadow Farm Stable of the Chenery family, still holds the record from 1973 of completing the race at 1:59:40 -- this broke Northern Dancer's 2.00.00 record of 1964. Secretariat was the winner of the Triple Crown in 1973, the first to do so in twenty-five years.
The Triple Crown is for the horse and jockey that won all three races in the Kentucky Derby. "The Run for the Roses" is the name most often used because of the blanket of roses draped over the winner. It is the first leg of the US Triple Crown and is followed by the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore, Maryland, then the Belmont Stakes held in Elmont New York. The horse must win all three races to receive the Triple Crown.
In 1919, Sir Barton became the first horse to win all three races. However, at that time, The Triple Crown was not the term used. In 1930, Gallant Fox became the second horse to win all three races. It was eleven years later that "Triple Crown" became the term when sportswriter Charles Hatton first used the phrase.
In 1974, Seattle Slew was foaled. He won the Triple Crown in 1977, the tenth horse to do so.
Churchill Downs has had strict dress codes to retain its reputation of high standards. No denim, t-shirts, shorts, or tennis shoes are allowed. The men dress in suits or blazers with slacks -- the women dress elegantly in dresses or pant suits and stunning hats.
A well-loved tradition of the Derby is when spectators gather in the infield and party. The traditional drink is the Mint Julep and the popular dish of burgoo (a thick stew) is also served. Those who prefer to buy tickets for the infield cannot see much of the race, but are there to party and do so with heavy enthusiasm.
'Millionaire's Row' is where the rich and famous sit in expensive box seats. Before the race, the horses are paraded before the grandstands as the University of Louisville Marching Band plays Stephen Foster's "My Old Kentucky Home." This is a tradition which began in 1924.
Aristides, who won the first Kentucky Derby in 1875, died on June 21, 1893. In 1988, the Aristides Stakes was inaugurated at Churchill Downs to honor him. A life-sized bronze statue of Aristides by Carl Regutti stands in the Clubhouse Gardens as a memorial.