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Kentucky Derby




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, or pageantry.

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.

Churchill Downs

Meriwether Lewis 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 Clark's uncles, Henry and John Churchill," says James C. Nicholson in his history
The Kentucky Derby.

"Within a decade the track would be colloquially known as Churchill Downs, destined to become the most famous racetrack in America."


My 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," writes 
James C. Nicholson in The Kentucky Derby.
My Old Kentucky Home sung by Johnny Cash
My Old Kentucky Home sung by Johnny Cash

Derby History


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 Kentucky Derby: How the Run for the Roses Became America's Premier Sporting Event."

Published by The University Press of Kentucky,  the book follows the progress of the Derby through the decades as it broke away from a pack of other races to become America’s premier thoroughbred event.
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Kentucky Derby


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