Kentucky Derby History and Traditions

History of The Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby is one of the most oldest tradition in not just horse racing but in the sports world all together. The First Kentucky Derby took place May 17, 1875 and the excitement around this race was very evident from the beginning. On this day there were 15 jockeys that took to the track and 13 of them were African American. Over 10,000 people attended to watch the race and the winner of the first Kentucky Derby was a horse by the name of “Aristides” who was rode by Oliver Lewis. It is held every year at Churchill Downs in Louisville Kentucky and was originally a mile and a half but in the late 1800’s it was shortened to a mile and a quarter. The song “My Old Kentucky Home” still is the trademark song of the Derby and is played every year. The Kentucky Derby now takes place on the first Saturday in May and the excitement starts early in the year and gets more intense as it approaches.

Kentucky Derby Rich Traditions

There are many traditions that are associated with the Derby and many of them have spurred from the very first race in the 1800’s. Here are a few of them below:

The Garland of Roses- This is a rich tradition and some people even call the prep races to get in the Derby “the run to the roses.” The reason for this is that the winner of each Kentucky Derby will get a Garland of Beautiful red roses. In 1904 the Red Rose became the official flower of the Kentucky Derby.

My Old Kentucky Home- Is definitely a tradition that will stick for the lifetime of the Kentucky Derby. It is a beautiful touching song by Stephen Foster and is believed that it started in 1921 at the 47th running of the roses.

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Mint Julip- This is the drink of choice and has been for many years at the big race. It is best served in a silver looking cup with decorative wreath on the top of the cup. Here is the early recipe and they will go through close to 120000 of them on derby day.

2 cups sugar
2 cups water
Sprigs of fresh mint
Crushed ice
Early Times Kentucky Whisky
Silver Julep Cups

Derby Hats- This is a great tradition where you will see some beautiful woman wearing big decorative hats. It creates an amazing scenery and you will not see this in any other sport.

There are many many other traditions and if you get a chance to visit Churchill Downs on the big day you will learn many others. Derby Breakfast Day and many events take place all week leading up to the first Saturday in May.

Triple Crown

This race is the first leg of the triple crown which is one of the biggest accomplishment that any horse can get done. It is not an easy task as they will have to win not only the Derby but the Preakness and Belmont that follow closely behind. The first one was 1919 by Sir Barton and the last one was in 1978 by Affirmed. Only eleven horses have accomplished this task and they are listed below:


Year Name Jockey
1919 Sir Barton John Loftus
1930 Gallant Fox Earl Sande
1935 Omaha William Saunders
1937 War Admiral Charley Kurtsinger
1941 Whirlaway Eddie Arcaro
1943 Count Fleet John Longden
1946 Assault Warren Mehrtens
1948 Citation Eddie Arcaro
1973 Secretariat Ron Turcotte
1977 Seattle Slew Jean Cruguet
1978 Affirmed Steve Cauthen

Here is a great site here where you can plan your next Kentucky Derby Party or your trip to watch the race in person where there is nothing like it. I think the Kentucky Derby 2012 will be a year to remember.

2013 Kentucky Derby Prep Races

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