Kentucky Derby History

It’s almost May and you know what that means.  Time to start getting ready for the Kentucky Derby!  I thought I was help set the mood this year by a look back at the history of the race.  By looking back, maybe you can make accurate Derby picks like these guys and cash in more of your bets.

There isn’t an American sporting event with a richer history than the Derby.  Mint juleps, the hats, and the singing of “My Old Kentucky Home” are just a few.  It’s the longest running sporting event in the United States.  The first Derby ran in 1875 and hasn’t taken a break since.

The idea for the Derby came from Meriwether Lewis Clark.  He was the grandson of William Clark of the famous Lewis and Clark expedition.  While traveling in Europe he attended the Epsom Derby and was determined to bring a major horse racing event back to the United States.  He convinced his uncles John and Henry Churchill of his idea, they gifted him the land, and the Louisville Jockey Club opened in 1875.

Things have progressed steadily ever since, but not even Clark could probably have imagined how big the race has become now.  The distance of the race has been shortened, the winning horse is now draped in a garland of roses, and there are thousands of people flooding the gates to get a view either from the stands or the outfield.  That’s not to mention the millions of people who will watch the race on television.

In 1883 the name Churchill Downs was first used to mark the home of the Derby.

In 1894 a 285-foot grandstand was build to accommodate the growing crowds to the event.

In 1896 the race was shortened from 1.5 miles to 1.25.  This was due to the race being ran early in the spring, so they wanted to shorten it for the three-year olds.

1904 is when the red rose became the official flower of the Kentucky Derby.

The first filly, Regret, won the race in 1915.

The first Triple Crown winner was Sir Barton back in 1919.  He won the Derby, the Preakness, the Withers Stakes, and the Belmont in a span of just 32 days.

The first network broadcast of the race was in 1925 and the phrase “Run for the Roses” is coined.

In 1931 the date of the race was set as the first Saturday in May.

1932 marked the first time the winner was draped in roses, and the first time the race was broadcast internationally.

The infield was created in 1938.

1952 marked the first nationally televised race and up to 15 million viewers tuned in.

The first horse to be disqualified after winner was Dancer’s Image in 1968.  He tested positive for an illegal medication, and second-place finisher Forward Pass is crowned champion.

The first female jockey, Diane Crump, rode in 1970.

Secretariat won in 1973.  He set a record time of 1:59:40.

Best Horse Movies


If you love horses as much as I do then you love a good horse movie.  There have been a lot during the history of film, but there are only a certain few that are worth of making the best of list.  Here are my favorites and a little bit about the plot of each.


This movie came out in 2004 starting Viggo Mortensen.  It was about the legend of Frank Hopkins and his horse Hidalgo.  This story is about racing his horse back in 1891 against pure-blooded Arabian horses.  Hopkins had been a famous distance rider, cowboy, and dispatch rider for the Pony Express.

He is invited over by a wealthy sheikh to participate in a 3,000 mile survival race across the desert.  Since Hopkins had been advertising himself as the world’s greatest distance rider and horse in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show he accepts.

The race is brutal.  Both Hopkins and Hidalgo nearly die.  But, they overcome and win the race, gaining the respect of the Arabs.


Another story that is based on the racing career of a horse.  Sea biscuit was undersized and overlooked as a thoroughbred, but became hugely popular during the depression.  This movie was released in 2003 and starred Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper, Elizabeth Banks, and William H. Macy.

Black Beauty

This movie was released in 1994 and is based on the 1977 English novel by the same name.  It’s one of the best selling books of all time.  The movie stars Andrew Knott, Sean Bean, and David Thewlis and is narrated by Alan Cumming as the voice of the horse.

Something to Talk About

This 1995 romantic comedy starting Julie Roberts, Dennis Quaid, and Robert Duvall was shot in Savannah, Georgia.  The film is more about how Grade (Roberts) discovers her husband (Quaid) is having an affair and what she should do about it.  However, her father (Duvall) owns a horse farm so there are plenty of scenes with them riding horses and featuring the animals.

The Horse Whisperer

An excellent 1998 film directed and starring Robert Redford in the title role.  Also appearing are Kristin Scott Thomas, Sam Neill, Dianne West, and Scarlett Johansson.  The story starts with Grace (Johansson) getting into an accident in which her best friend and her horse are killed.  Grace has her leg partially amputed and is emotionally wounded.  Her mother is a workaholic but instead of putting down Grace’s horse, she hires someone to try and help.


All the Pretty Horses

This 2000 film was directed by Billy Bob Thornton and was based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel.  It stars Matt Damon and Penelope Cruz.

It takes place back in 1949.  A young cowboy (Damon) and his friend travel to Mexico to find work as hired hands.  The cowboy falls in love with the aristocrat’s daughter Alejandra (Cruz) but the advances are not welcomed by her family.

Damon is jailed and nearly killed while Cruz was taken away by her father.  It’s a sad love story in which the two people you are rooting for never end up getting together.