A Brief History of the Kentucky Derby:

The Kentucky derby is probably best known around the world for it's atmosphere. The ladies hats are always the talk of the town and fashion journalists from around the world weigh in on who wore what to the derby. It certainly wouldn't be the Kentucky Derby without a Mint Julep in hand to help quench your thirst on the first Saturday in May.

Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr. is largely responsible for the Kentucky Derby. After a trip to Europe in 1872 where he witnessed the finest horse racing England and France had to offer, he founded the Louisville Jockey Club in order to raise the money to build a first rate horse racing facility. The land for the race track was donated by his uncles John and Henry Churchill. Every Kentucky Derby in history has been run at this track just outside of Louisville Kentucky.

Naturally, this is where the track takes it's name. While it was refereed to as Churchill Downs from the beginning, it wasn't until 1937 that it was officially named Churchill Downs through incorporation. This was more than 60 years after the first Kentucky Derby was run on May 17, 1875.

The Kentucky Derby is much more than just a horse race, it is a cultural event. For many people, attending the Kentucky Derby is a once in a lifetime experience that cannot be missed. Dan Fogelberg composed his song “Run for the Roses,” in honor of the event. The infield is general admission seating. Most people, however, buy these tickets in order to enjoy the party that takes place all day rather than to watch the race. The party atmosphere was immortalized by Hunter S. Thompson in 1970 when he wrote an article about the Kentucky Derby for Scanlan's Monthly magazine.

The full race was first televised nationally in 1952. Today, the television coverage of the Kentucky Derby focuses as much on the people and traditions as it does on the race itself. The first Saturday in May is packed with coverage of the festivities that make the Kentucky Derby an event that is enjoyed by people from every walk of life. Much of the televised commentary prior to the race centers on the parades of people attending the event, the wardrobe choice of the notable attendees and the stories of the horses, jockeys, trainers and owners who will participate in the glorious race. In 2007, no less a personage than Queen Elizabeth II was in attendance and dressed splendidly for the occasion.

Originally, the Derby was 1 1/2 miles in length. This was the same distance as the European races that had inspired Clark in 1872. In 1896 the distance was reduced to 1 1/4 miles, the distance it continues to be run at today. That same year, the Derby winner was draped in a blanket of roses, a practice continued to this day. This tradition has led to the Kentucky Derby frequently being referred to simply as, “The Run for the Roses.”