Saturday, May 06, 2006
The Kentucky Derby, May 6, 2006
The 132nd Kentucky Derby will be run today. This event, called “The Greatest Two Minutes in Sports”, is perhaps the most famous horse race in the world. Churchill Downs, the track in Louisville, Kentucky where the Derby is run, plays host to owners, trainers, celebrities and other race fans from all over the globe this day.
Kentucky has been a home to horse breeding and racing for over 200 years. However, it was not until 1872 that Colonel M. Lewis Clark traveled to England and France and first witnessed a derby race in each country. He returned home and organized the Louisville Jockey Club, whose first goal was to raise money to build a large track outside the city. The Club succeeded in this and Churchill Downs was born, named after John and Henry Churchill, who provided the land for the track.
The first Kentucky Derby was run on May 17, 1875. The distance for that first race was 1 1/2 miles; the current 1 1/4 mile distance was established in 1896. The 1875 event drew 10,000 spectators; today, more than 150,000 people are present for the day of races.
Just a few years after the inaugural Derby, it became commonplace for owners to enter their horses in two other races: the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore, Maryland and the Belmont Stakes in Elmont, New York. All three races take place within a month of each other and any horse that wins all three is known as a Triple Crown winner. The first Triple Crown winner was Sir Barton in 1919, although the term was not actually coined until 1930.
The 1 1/4 mile race is always run in a little over two minutes, although one horse, Secretariat, ran the race in one minute, fifty-nine and two-fifths seconds in 1973. This record still stands today. Only one horse has ever been disqualified after winning the Derby. This occurred in 1968 when Dancer’s Image was found to have an anti-inflammatory drug in his urine.
Corporate sponsorship of the Derby was traditionally shunned by Churchill Downs and racing purists, but this has changed in the 21st century. In 2004, jockeys were allowed to wear corporate logos on their clothes for the first time. In February of this year, Yum! Brands, who is based in Louisville and is the parent company of fast food giants KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell among others, announced that they reached a corporate sponsorship agreement with Churchill Downs. From now on, the Kentucky Derby will be officially known as “The Kentucky Derby, presented by Yum! Brands.”