Rising from humble beginnings as an American variation of England's
Epsom Derby, the Kentucky Derby has become a centerpiece of American
sports and the horse racing industry, confirming Kentucky's status as
the Horse Capital of the World.
Held each year on the first Saturday in May, the race turns worldwide
attention to the twin spires of Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky
for the high-stakes excitement of the "greatest two minutes in sports."
No other American sporting event can claim as much history, tradition,
For more than 130 years, spectators have been awed by the magnificent
horses that run the Louisville track. Thoroughbreds such as Secretariat
and Barbaro have earned instant international fame, along with jockeys
such as Isaac Murphy, Ron Turcotte, and Calvin Borel.
Clark Jr., grandson of the famous
explorer William Clark and scion of one of Louisville's oldest
families, led the campaign to build a world-class racecourse patterned
after Epson Downs in Britain during the early 1770s.
"Clark convinced a group of 320 local sportsmen and business leaders to
invest $100 apiece to fund the construction of a racetrack and
grandstand to be located on eighty acres of land owned by
uncles, Henry and John Churchill," says James C. Nicholson in his
"Within a decade the track would be colloquially known as Churchill
Downs, destined to become the most famous racetrack in America."
Old Kentucky Home
Although some assume that
the song by Stephen Foster was part of the
Kentucky Derby from its beginning, it was not played at Churchill Downs
until 1921 and did not become the official anthem of the race the end
of that decade.
"It soon became one of the most recognized traditions associated with
the event, part of the emotional experience of the Kentucky Derby,"
C. Nicholson in
Old Kentucky Home sung by Johnny Cash
If the Super Bowl had been played in the same city each year, say a
working class community like Green Bay, and still grew up to become a
multi-billion-dollar spectacle attracting the world's rich and famous
as well as the beer-swilling, tatooed commoners then it would be an
event comparable to the Kentucky Derby, especially if you added an
extra hundred years of tradition to its history.
An unabashed thoroughbred horse enthusiast and Kentucky Derby
fan, author James C. Nicholson nevertheless provides a straightforward
history and honest assessment of the event and its evolution in "The
the Run for the Roses Became America's Premier Sporting Event."
Published by The University Press of Kentucky, the book
the progress of the Derby through the decades as it broke away from a
pack of other races to become America’s premier thoroughbred
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