Wear your nicest hat and go off to the races, because horse racing season is in full swing!
Horse racing used to be considered the “sport of kings” because it was popular with British Royalty. Back then, it was known as an exclusive sport in England. Today, horse racing is enjoyed by all types of people all over the world!
Thoroughbred racing was brought to America by British settlers, with the first racetrack being laid out in 1655 in Long Island, New York.
One of the biggest horse racing events of the year is the Kentucky Derby and it’s the oldest continuous sporting event in the U.S.
The Kentucky Derby is always run on the first Saturday in May and it’s known as the “most exciting 2 minutes in sports”. This year, the Kentucky Derby, presented by Woodford Reserve, is on May 4 and it takes place at Churchill Downs in Louisville.
The Kentucky Derby is the first race in the Triple Crown, which is a series of races run at 3 different tracks. The two other races in the Triple Crown are the Preakness Stakes in Maryland and the Belmont Stakes in New York. In order to win the Triple Crown, a horse must win all 3 races. In total, only 13 horses have won the Triple Crown, with the first winner being Sir Barton, in 1919 and the most recent winner being Justify in 2018.
The Kentucky Derby is one of the hardest races to win. Only the best 3-year-old horses of either sex run in the race. They must earn points in a series of preliminary races run in the months prior to the big derby.
Unlike most horse races, which have about 8 horses in the race, the Kentucky Derby almost always has a full field of 20 horses. Churchill Downs allows a field of 20 horses because it recognizes the importance of the Kentucky Derby. In order to have 20 horses run, a second starting gate is moved next to their regular starting gate that holds 14 horses. The race’s distance of a mile and one quarter will be the farthest these horses have been asked to run in a race.
In the Kentucky Derby, horses contend with getting bumped around by more horses than they’re used to. They also have to keep their cool despite the more than 100,000 screaming fans in the stands and in the track’s infield.
This year marks the 145th running of the derby! The most famous horse to win the Kentucky Derby was Secretariat. In 1973, he was the first horse to win the Triple Crown since 1948.
Seats for the Kentucky Derby are difficult to get, with the best seats costing thousands of dollars.
Horse racing fans at the Kentucky Derby will bet millions of dollars on the race. Millions more will be bet all over the country in off-track betting facilities and other race tracks.
The Kentucky Derby is also called the “Run for the Roses” because of the garland of roses placed around the neck of the winning horse. The owners of the winning horse this year will receive $1.86 million in prize money, known as the winner’s share of the purse. Winning the race brings great prestige to the horse, it’s jockey, trainer and owner. A horse’s value as a sire can increase greatly if they win the Kentucky Derby.
In the Central Florida area, people can bet on the big race at Orlando Jai Alai, Orange City Poker, and Sanford/Orlando Kennel Club.
Fun Fact: The official drink of the Kentucky Derby is the mint julep. Even if you’re not at Churchill Downs, you can still watch the race live on NBC and make yourself a mint julep to celebrate the biggest horse racing event of the year!