The History of the Kentucky Derby from 1875 to today

The Kentucky Derby is known as the “most exciting two minutes in sports”. The race has become a cultural icon in America and is steeped in history, dating back to its inaugural running in 1875. In this post, we’ll take a look at the rich history of the Kentucky Derby, from its inception to the present day.

The Origins of the Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby was the brainchild of Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr., the grandson of William Clark of Lewis and Clark fame. Clark was inspired by the Epsom Derby, a famous race in England, and wanted to create a similar event in the United States.

Clark’s vision was to create a race that would showcase the best horses from around the country. To accomplish this, he built a world-class racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky, which he called Churchill Downs. The track opened in 1875, and the first Kentucky Derby was held on May 17 of that year.

The First Kentucky Derby

The first Kentucky Derby was a two-day event, with the main race being held on the second day. Fifteen three-year-old thoroughbreds lined up to race the 1.5-mile track, watched by an estimated crowd of 10,000 people.

The winner of the first Kentucky Derby was a horse named Aristides, ridden by jockey Oliver Lewis. Aristides was owned by H.P. McGrath and trained by Ansel Williamson. Aristides won the race in a time of 2:37.75, and the purse was $2,850.

The Kentucky Derby in the Early 20th Century

Over the next few decades, the Kentucky Derby grew in popularity, and by the early 20th century, it had become one of the premier sporting events in America. The race was covered extensively by newspapers, and it became a social event as well, with high society attending in large numbers.

In 1915, a filly named Regret became the first female horse to win the Kentucky Derby. She was ridden by jockey Joe Notter and owned by Harry Payne Whitney.

The Kentucky Derby During World War II

During World War II, the Kentucky Derby faced many challenges. Many of the top horses were sent overseas to fight in the war, and gasoline was rationed, making it difficult for people to travel to Louisville to attend the race.

In 1943, the race was not run due to wartime restrictions on travel and material goods. The following year, the race was run but was limited to horses from the Midwest to save on transportation costs.

The Kentucky Derby Today

Today, the Kentucky Derby is still one of the most popular sporting events in America, attracting crowds of over 150,000 people to Churchill Downs every year. The race is now run at a distance of 1.25 miles, and the purse has grown to over $3 million.

The Kentucky Derby has also become a cultural phenomenon, with events like the Kentucky Derby Festival, the Kentucky Oaks, and the Mint Julep, a drink synonymous with the race.

In recent years, the Kentucky Derby has also faced controversy, with issues such as drug use among horses and jockeys and the treatment of horses being brought to the forefront. However, the race still remains a beloved tradition in America.


The Kentucky Derby is a race steeped in history, dating back over 145 years. From its humble beginnings in 1875 to the present day, the Kentucky Derby has become a cultural icon in America, attracting crowds of over 150,000 people every year.

Whether you’re a die-hard horse racing fan or just enjoy the excitement of a good sporting event, the


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