Saturday May 1, 2021
The race distance is one and one-quarter miles long, and it is run on the dirt racetrack at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. The legendary racetrack has presented America's greatest race, the Kentucky Derby, continuously since 1875.
The Kentucky Derby takes place on the first Saturday in May every year, and typically draws a crowd of 155,000 people. It is the longest continually held sporting event in America, and it is one of the most prestigious horse races in the world. Often called “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports”, the Kentucky Derby receives this nickname from the approximate length of time it takes the winner to run from the starting gate to the finish line.
The Kentucky Derby is a Grade I stake race for 3-year-old Thoroughbred horses. Colts and geldings in the race carry 126 pounds, and fillies in the race carry 121 pounds. 20 horses compete in the Kentucky Derby, which is a larger field size than most horse races. The 20 horses racing in the Kentucky Derby must first race in a series of 35 races taking place at tracks across the country and the world. Points are awarded to the top 4 horses that finish in each of those 35 races, and the 20 horses with the most points earn a spot in the starting gate in the Kentucky Derby race. The Kentucky Derby winning purse is $2 million.
The Kentucky Derby is the first race within the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing, where it is followed by the Preakness Stakes race and the Belmont Stakes race. The Triple Crown is considered one of the most difficult accomplishments in horse racing, and possibly all of sports championships. The grueling schedule requires a three-year-old horse to win the Kentucky Derby, then two weeks later win the Preakness Stakes, and then three weeks later win the Belmont Stakes. In all of racing history, only thirteen horses have achieved the Triple Crown.
The Kentucky Derby’s history began in 1872, when Meriwether Lewis Clark, the grandson of William Clark – of the famed pair Lewis and Clark – traveled to Europe. While there, Clark attended the Epsom Derby in England, a well-known horse race run since 1780. Clark was inspired by his travels and experiences, and, upon his return, was determined to create a spectacle horse racing event in the States. With the help of his uncle’s John & Henry Churchill, who gifted Clark the necessary land to develop a racetrack, and by formally organizing a group of local race fans to be named the Louisville Jockey Club, Clark and his new club raised funds to build a permanent racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky. On May 17th, 1875, the racetrack opened with the very first Kentucky Derby. A total of fifteen three-year-old Thoroughbred horses raced one and a half miles in front of a cheering crowd of approximately 10,000 spectators. Aristides was the first winner of the Kentucky Derby. From 1875–1929, the Kentucky Derby winner would stand on the racetrack in a circled area drawn out in chalk dust, leading to the phrase "winner's circle." Track officials moved the presentation from the track and made the winner’s presentation in an area that adjoined the clubhouse.
Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr.'s vision for the Derby as an event that the high-class would attend, similar to the European-style racing events of the time, mandated full morning dress for men and women. For the first running of the Kentucky Derby, he used high-class women to recruit his target clientele to attend the race. The event quickly became just as much about the fashion as the racing. A day at Churchill Downs, especially on Derby Day was an opportunity to be seen in the latest of fashions. A journalist from a 1901 Louisville Courier-Journal stated, "The seats in the grandstand were filled with gaily dressed women and men. The mass of green, pink, red, yellow, blue, all the colors of the rainbow, blending into one harmonious whole was as beautiful a sight as His Eminence in the lead." The extravagant hats that have become associated with the Kentucky Derby did not really come around until the 1960s, when social fashion norms loosened up and the presence of television gave women a reason to stand out. The hats became larger, brighter, and more extravagant.
As with any major event, the Kentucky Derby has undergone various changes over the course of three centuries. From shortening the distance of the race to establishing traditions such as draping the winning horse in a garland of roses. There are few American sporting events with the history and popularity of the Kentucky Derby. Sipping a mint julep, donning a beautiful hat, and joining fellow race fans in singing “My Old Kentucky Home” – transcend the Kentucky Derby from just a sporting event, making it a celebration of southern culture and a true icon of Americana.
Viewing Party Ideas!
The Mint Julep has been the traditional beverage of Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby for nearly a century. Each year, almost 120,000 Mint Juleps are served over the two-day Kentucky Derby weekend. That’s a feat that requires more than 10,000 bottles of Old Forester Mint Julep Ready-to-Serve Cocktail, 1,000 pounds of freshly harvested mint and 60,000 pounds of ice.
The Derby Mint Julep Recipe
3 oz. Bourbon
0.75 oz. Simple Syrup
8-10 mint leaves
3 mint sprigs, for garnish
Pack mint julep cup with crushed ice. In a mixing glass, combine bourbon, syrup, and mint leaves. Lightly bruise mint leaves with a muddler, strain contents into julep cup. Garnish with 3 generous sprigs of mint. *Make sure to slap mint and insert straw into ice near mint.
Bacon Bourbon Caramel Popcorn
5 quarts plain popped corn (freshly air-popped recommended.)
1/2-1 lb thick cut bacon, chopped, fried too just about crispy and well drained
1 cup butter
2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup or 1/2 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 ounces Bourbon
Preheat your oven to 250º.
Melt 1 cup of butter over medium heat. Mix in brown sugar, corn syrup and sea salt and then stir until boiling at the edges. Lower the heat slightly and let boil until the caramel is 250º. Remove from heat and add the baking soda and bourbon. Once fully incorporated, stir in the bacon.
Divide the popcorn into two very lightly greased roasting pans and coat with the caramel. Mix well and then put the popcorn into the preheated oven for about 45 minutes to an hour, mixing every 10-15 minutes so the kernel of popped corn is coated in bourbon bacon coating.
Once done, pour onto either parchment paper or wax paper to cool and break into pieces.