Kentucky Derby History

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Horse racing is nothing without tradition, and the Kentucky Derby brings with it plenty of its own. The big hats, the mint juleps and lifting the collective voice in “My Old Kentucky Home” all make the Kentucky Derby what it is – an American sporting institution.

The race is one of the key three-year-old thoroughbred races on the world calendar and at the same time a huge celebration of southern culture.

The Derby has been run at Churchill Downs in Louisville since 1875, making the “Run for the Roses” the longest running sporting event in the country, even continuing through two World Wars and the Great Depression. It’s hard to imagine the race being run anywhere other than the Downs for any reason, this venue helping to shape what has become a valuable jewel in the American sporting crown.

The Venue

This is no backwater track hidden in the middle of nowhere; Churchill Downs sits right in the middle of a densely populated area, right next door to the University of Louisville and just a few miles from the Ohio River.

Despite its tight spot on the map, Churchill Downs can host up to 170,000 people on Kentucky Derby day and is now one of the iconic sporting arenas in the world.

Since 2009, race tracks have been ranked by the Horseplayers Association of North America and the magnificent Churchill Downs is in its top five.

The Early Days

The race came about after Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr (great name!) went to England by invitation and attended the Derby at Epsom Downs. The Derby had been running since 1780 and already held great tradition in England before this visit, though it resonated with him and after a visit to France with the French Jockey Club he had decided to create a great race of his own.

Upon his return to Kentucky, Clark put together the Louisville Jockey Club for the purpose of raising money to build a track – that track became known as Churchill Downs.

The Kentucky Derby was first run at 1½ miles, just like the Derby at Epsom but was changed in 1896 to its current distance of 1¼ miles (ten furlongs).

Back in 1875 when the first race was run, a crowd of 10,000 people gathered to witness the spectacle as 15 three-year-olds were led home by Aristides who also went on to finish second on the Belmont Stakes later in the year.

The Derby and the Triple Crow

Although the Kentucky Derby is not quite as old as the Preakness Stakes or the Belmont, it has now overtaken them as the most important race of the three and so assuming their fitness and wellness, the very best three-year-olds will attempt to qualify for this race regardless of their plans for the rest of the season.

That said, the main goal is the Triple Crown meaning to win all three of these races and that’s a feat which has been managed only 12 times in the history of the sport, American Pharoah being the last of them in 2015 and its why only best can qualify to take part.

The Purse

These days the purse for the Kentucky Derby stands at $2million, the winner collecting the bulk of this with a first place prize of $1,425,000.

The total purse was raised four times between 1979 and 1989 which took it from $200,000 to $500,000 which gave it the sort of value appropriate for a race of this stature.

Things have moved on a lot in the sport, in fact on the inaugural running of this race in 1875, the winner took home $2,850 with the second placed horse earning just $200.

Betting The Kentucky Derby

Studying past and current form, checking the race history for trends and checking the latest odds are hugely important in attempting to bet the winner of this race and that can all be done by visiting right here leading up to post time.

As a bettor, you should never go into any big race under informed so make sure you check back here at race time for all the latest information regarding one of America’s biggest races.

Bet This Year’s Race At TV

If knowing the history of the Kentucky Derby has whetted your appetite then be sure to get involved with this year’s event by betting online here at TVG. Our race experts will be on hand during build-up to the big day offering in-depth analysis on all the contenders to help you bet wisely.



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