Cities Journal

Taking In The Kentucky Derby

Kentucky Derby
Photo credit: boboroshi / Flickr

The first Saturday in May, Louisville, Kentucky hosts a one and a quarter mile race marketed as “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports.” The race gets its name from one that ran annually in England called simply The Derby. This year will welcome the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby complete with a festival, fireworks and those crazy traditions.

All the Derby Particulars for 2014

In 2014, Churchill Downs hosts the 140th Kentucky Derby on May 3rd. The Bleacher Report lists post at 6:24 p.m. Eastern time.

The favorite this year is California Chrome, an American Thoroughbred who won the Anita Derby and the San Felipe Stakes, according to the Bleacher Report. West coast breeders Perry Martin and Steve Coburn own California Chrome.

As ESPN points out, it is not easy to qualify for the Kentucky Derby, deemed the first jewel of the Thoroughbred Horse Racing Triple Crown. History shows many top rated contenders fall along the wayside. For example, in 2010, the undefeated favorite Eskendereya retired a week before the race due to a leg injury.

This year is no exception. Breeder’s Cup Juvenile winner New Years Day failed to qualify, as did Florida Derby winner Constitution. The final race may only last two minutes, but the prep season is typically brutal.

The Festival

The Kentucky Derby is as much about the events as it is about the horse race. It all begins with a two-week long festival held in Louisville. Each year the festival draws them in to see the fireworks, run the marathon and take part in the traditions, explains the official festival website. The official events include:

  • Thunder Over Louisville – The largest yearly fireworks display in the U.S.
  • The Pegasus Parade – One of the largest in the country
  • The Royal Court – Six young women selected to preside over the festivities.
  • The Great Balloon Race – One of a number of races held throughout the festival
  • The Run for the Rosé – An obstacle course created for restaurant servers, where the competitors run the course carrying serving trays filled with full wine glasses.

The Traditions of the Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby is an event steeped with tradition, some as old as the race itself. The Mint Julep is the traditional drink of race watchers. It has been that way for nearly a century, according to the Derby website. The site claims that during Derby weekend, Churchill Downs serves almost 120,000 Mint Juleps. The drink is so popular that the venue introduced a silver souvenir julep cup that features a horseshoe in 1951, reports the Kentucky Derby Museum. Other traditions include:

  • “My Old Kentucky Home” plays every year as the horses parade around the grandstand.
  • All the fashionable ladies attending the Louisville party receive a garland of roses, the official flower of the Kentucky Derby. Each year, the winner of the race receives a blanket of roses, as well.

What’s Up with Those Hats?

Fashion at the Kentucky Derby is much a part of the tradition as the roses. The founding father of the derby Colonel M. Lewis Clark Jr., grandson of the famed explorer, wanted a luxurious event. For many, Derby Day was an excuse to dress up, including wearing their best hats.

That tradition carries on even today. The museum states that women attending the festivities take pride in finding a hat to celebrate the occasion, the louder the better.

As April ends and most of the world is ready for spring, Louisville, Kentucky lights up with fireworks, races and those impressive hats, all in preparation for a two-minute Grade I stakes race of three-year-old Thoroughbreds.

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