Derby 101 : History
The Rich History of the Kentucky Derby
From the cobble-stone pavements, traversed by horse lovers, and gamblers since 1875, to the name plates of Derby winners displayed along the moldings of the Twin Spires building, to the ever expanding caricature painting in the Clubhouse of the winning jockeys and their Thoroughbreds, you will feel invigorated by the rich history that fills the grounds of Churchill Downs.
The Idea - US Racing Action
Colonel M. Lewis Clark, grandson of former Missouri governor and Lewis and Clark Expedition co-leader General William Clark, was amazed by the big race tracks in France and England while in Europe so he decided to create the same atmosphere and racing action in the United States.
Opening Day at Churchill Downs
The first Kentucky Derby® was run on the official opening day of the track on May 17, 1875. Close to 10,000 people watched as 15 thoroughbred horses ran what was then a 1.5 mile course. In 1876, the length of the race was changed to 1.25 miles. Many people might be surprised to know that the first Kentucky Derby® winner, chestnut colt named Aristides was trained and ridden by African-Americans Ansel Williamson and Oliver Lewis. The track was not known as Churchill Downs® until eight years later in 1883.
History of the Garland of Roses
The roses were first established as part of the Derby celebration when they were presented to all the ladies attending a fashionable Louisville Derby party. The roses were such a sensation, that the president of Churchill Downs, Col. Lewis Clark, adopted the rose as the race's official flower. The rose garland now synonymous with the Kentucky Derby® first appeared in the 1896 when the winner, Ben Brush, received a floral arrangement of white and pink roses.
In 1904 the red rose became the official flower of the Kentucky Derby. The tradition was strengthened when, in 1925, New York sports columnist Bill Corum, later the president of Churchill Downs, dubbed the Kentucky Derby® the "Run for the Roses". The garland as it exists today was first introduced in 1932 for the 58th running won by Burgoo King.
Each year, a garland of 554 red roses is sewn into a green satin backing with the seal of the Commonwealth on one end and the twin spires and number of the running on the other. Each garland is also adorned with a "Crown" of roses, green fern and ribbon. The "Crown", a single rose pointing upward in the center of the garland, symbolizes the struggle and heart necessary to reach the winners' circle.
At the ceremony in the Winners’ Circle, after the conclusion of The Kentucky Derby race, the Garland of 554 red Roses is placed triumphantly over the withers of the winner of The Kentucky Derby.
Kentucky Derby Facts and Stats
Record for the most Kentucky Derby Wins (Jockey): 5
- 1957 (Iron Liege)
- 1960 (Venetian Way)
- 1962 (Decidedly)
- 1964 (Northern Dancer)
1969 (Majestic Prince)
Record for the most Kentucky Derby Wins (Trainer): 6
Record for the fastest time at The Kentucky Derby: 1:59:40
For more Kentucky Derby statistics, visit: KentuckyDerby.com