Held at the historic Churchill Downs in Louisville Kentucky on the first Saturday of every May, The Kentucky Derby has been a vastly popular sporting event since 1875.
The tradition began when Meriwether Lewis Clark, the grandson of William Clark (of the famed pair Lewis and Clark) traveled to Europe to attend the Epsom Derby. While there, he became inspired by both the sport and experience and was determined to create the same kind of race in the United States. His uncles John & Henry Churchill then gifted him the land to develop his dream race track. With the help of an organized group of local race fans- the Louisville Jockey Club-he was able to raise enough funds to build the track in Louisville, Kentucky. On May 17th, 1875, the gates of the newfound racetrack were opened. Over 10,000 cheering spectators watched as 15 thoroughbred horses raced 1.5 miles around the track. A horse by the name of Aristides was the very first winner of the Kentucky Derby!
Today, 20 horses compete at the derby, running 1.25 miles. The horses that compete in Kentucky have to first compete at the Road to the Kentucky Derby, which is a series of 35 races taking place at tracks around the world. The top 4 winning horses for each race are given points, and the 20 horses with the most points earn a well-deserved spot at the gate of the Kentucky Derby.
Despite the minor changes, the Kentucky Derby has continually represented and embraced the feel and tradition of the original Derby set forth by Meriwether Lewis Clark and the Louisville Jockey Club.
The 3 Most Well-Known Traditions at the Kentucky Derby:
- Singing “My Old Kentucky Home”: Stephen Collins Foster wrote the well known Derby anthem in the 1850s, but it wasn’t until the 1920s that it took off in popularity, when a mansion in Kentucky was thought to be identified as the song’s inspiration. Within a few years, “My Old Kentucky Home” was replaced with the national anthem to kick off the Derby, and today it is still sung by many and performed by the University of Louisville Marching Band every year.
- Serving Mint Juleps: The Kentucky whiskey and mint concoction was a popular drink from the very start of the Derby. It got its roots from a famous Polish actress who ordered the drink at a pre-derby breakfast and started the trend. Churchill Downs then began serving it in its souvenir glasses in the 1930s, because of clubhouse patrons who were stealing their regular ones.
Wearing Big Hats: The Epsom race in England (what Kentucky Derby is based off of) developed the fashionable trend of wearing big hats, and when the Derby began in the US, Derby-goers continued the tradition in order to make it a see-and-be-seen event.
There are various ways to get ready and get set for the Kentucky Derby on May 7th! The Kentucky Derby is known as “the most exciting two minutes in sports”, and here at Most Everything, we are celebrating on the evening of First Friday Art Walk (May 6th) and would love for you to join in the excitement the night before! Wear your favorite Derby hat, enjoy Derby refreshments, meet our very talented local milliner, and bet on the winning horse for a chance to win a $50 gift certificate to the store! Various Derby clothing, dresses, and hats will be on display.
Keep on the lookout for updates and info regarding our Derby Day on Friday May 6th! Thanks for reading!