Biggest Events in Sports The Kentucky Derby Part 1

About the Kentucky Derby horse race, history of the major sporting event held at Churchill Downs.



First run in 1875, the Kentucky Derby is the most famous and prestigious horse race in the U.S. Also called "the Run for the Roses"--the winning horse is draped in a blanket of roses--the Kentucky Derby is run at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., on the first Saturday in May. It is open to all three-year-old Thoroughbreds registered with the Jockey Club. Although fillies are eligible to run, only one--Regret in 1915--has ever won the race. Ironically, it was Regret who helped make the Derby what it is today.

The Kentucky Derby reached prominence through the efforts of Col. Matt J. Winn. A witness to the first derby, Winn used his business acumen and promotional flair to attract the best stables--and their best horses--when he took over the management of Churchill Downs in 1902. But it wasn't until the owner of Regret, Harry Payne Whitney said, "I do not care if she never wins another race. She has won the greatest race in America and I am satisfied," that the Kentucky Derby became the showcase of U.S. horse racing.

The Kentucky Derby is the first leg of the Triple Crown--along with the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes--and attracts more than 100,000 fans each year, along with millions more who watch the race on television. The ontrack betting pool in 1977 amounted to $3,655,225, for a race that lasted 2 min. 2 1/5 sec.

Aristides, the first Kentucky Derby winner, collected a winner's prize of $2,850. Today, it cost an owner more than that to start a horse. The conditions for the race call for a $100 fee to nominate (enter) a horse, $4,000 to pass the entry box (draw a post position), and an additional $3,500 to actually start. To this pooled money is added $125,000, of which a minimum of $100,000 is guaranteed to the winner. In 1977 Seattle Slew earned a winner's share of $214,700.

In recent years, the number of entrants has been limited to 20. Should more wish to pass the entry box, eligibility is confined to the 20 with the highest lifetime earnings in purse money.

As of 1977, 95 colts, 7 geldings, and 1 filly have won the Kentucky Derby. In 1884 Buchanan broke his maiden (won his first race) in the Kentucky Derby. Only one colt, Dancer's Image, has ever been taken down (disqualified) from first place.

Through the years, many individuals have compiled impressive records in the Kentucky Derby. Eddie Arcaro and Bill Hartack have each ridden five derby winners. Ben Jones trained six derby winners, and Calumet Farm, for whom Jones trained, has bred eight Kentucky Derby winners. The record for the fastest time ever recorded belongs to Secretariat, who ran the 1 1/4-mi. distance in 1:59.4 in 1973 under 126 lb., the weight for all derby colts since 1920.

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