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Kentucky Derby Tradition



When is the Kentucky Derby? The Kentucky Derby is run annually on the first Saturday in May. Horse racing in Kentucky dates back to 1783. It's a sport rich in pride, heritage and tradition, and no other venue in the world pays tribute to the glory, status and spectacle of Thoroughbred racing quite like Churchill Downs.

If you've got your Kentucky Derby tickets and want a taste of what you're in for during this year's "Run for the Roses," here's some Churchill Downs background information, a few historic highlights, and a couple of Kentucky Derby traditions to get you off to the races with a little knowledge under your saddle.

The Fastest Two Minutes In History

1873 - Col. M. Lewis Clark returns from Europe to begin work on the Louisville Jockey Club, modeled after French and English clubs of the time.

1874 - 80 acres south of downtown are leased from Clark's uncles, John and Henry Churchill.

1875 - Bonaventure wins first race at then Louisville Jockey Club. Aristides wins first Kentucky Derby.

1883 - Track first referred to as "Churchill Downs."

1895 - Twin spires are erected over the grandstands.

1903 - Under Grainger and Winn track shows first profit.

1942 - Churchill Downs Incorporated.

1952 - 1st national telecast of Derby.

1954 - 1st filmed replay.

1973 - Secretariat record at 1:59 2/5.

1974 - 100th Kentucky Derby

1982 - Computerized pari-mutuel system installed.

2004 - Phase I of $121 Million renovation begins.

2005 - Phase II of $121 Million renovation completed.

For a more detailed track history visit Churchill Downs online.

Mint Julep

No trip to the Kentucky Derby is complete until you've sampled a mint julep. Mix fine Kentucky Bourbon with sugar, water and some fresh mint, serve over crushed ice in a tall glass, and you've got yourself the official drink of the Kentucky Derby.

Try it at Home
Mix 2 cups water with 2 cups sugar. Boil for 5 minutes. Add 6-8 sprigs of fresh mint. Cover container. Refrigerate overnight. Fill one glass at a time over crushed ice. Add 1 tablespoon of mint syrup and 2 shots of your finest Kentucky Bourbon. Stir rapidly and garnish with a fresh sprig of mint. Voilą! A little taste of Kentucky to get you ready for the Derby!


Near Misses and Divine Equine

Near Misses

1932 - Burgoo King

1936 - Bold Venture

1944 - Pensive

1958 - Tim Tam

1961 - Carry Back

1964 - Northern Dancer

1966 - Kauai King

1968 - Forward Pass

1969 - Majestic Prince

1971 - Canonero II

1979 - Spectacular Bid

1981 - Pleasant Colony

1987 - Alysheba

1989 - Sunday Silence

1997 - Silver Charm

1998 - Real Quiet

1999 - Charismatic

2002 - War Emblem

2003 - Funny Cide

2004 - Smarty Jones


Triple Crown Winners

1919 - Sir Barton

1930 - Gallant

1935 - Omaha

1937 - War Admiral

1941 - Whirlaway

1943 - Count Fleet

1946 - Assault

1948 - Citation

1973 - Secretariat

1977 - Seattle Slew

1978 - Affirmed

Calling All Milliners

Wearing a fashionable (if not gaudy) hat to the Kentucky Derby is probably the most notable tradition associated with the Kentucky Derby. Just about everyone you run into at Churchill Downs on race-day will be wearing a lavishly designed or creatively pieced-together hat.

Generally, you'll see classy and fashionable hats in the Clubhouse and Paddock areas, but the infield seating hosts an open-season for mad hatters and meticulous milliners alike to display their creative flare for headwear.

Suggested Reading
» Where to Sit - All about Churchill Downs Seating
» What to Expect - History, tradition and more at Churchill Downs
» What to Do - Louisville area attractions, entertainment and dining
» Where to Stay - Hotels and B&Bs near Churchill Downs

Kentucky Derby Info

» Derby Tickets
» Derby Seating
» Derby Tradition
» Derby Attractions
» Derby Accommodations


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