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Fun Facts About the Kentucky Derby

By Matthew Fortuna

Since 1875, the Kentucky Derby has been held at Churchill Downs annually on the first Saturday of May. Called "The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports," the Louisville, Kentucky race is part of the Triple Crown of horse racing. It is the most prestigious race in the sport of horse racing, and features 3-year-old thoroughbreds. The 1 1/4-mile race is also known as the "Run for the Roses."

Historical Facts

The Louisville Jockey Club, responsible for organizing the Kentucky Derby, was started by Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr., the grandson of William Clark of the Lewis and Clark expedition. He was inspired by England's Epsom Derby, held annually since 1780. The Kentucky Derby was immortalized by counterculture author Hunter S. Thompson and illustrator Ralph Steadman in the 1969 article "The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved."

Drinks and Fashion

The Derby has long been famed for showcasing the latest men's and women's spring fashions. Men can be spotted in pastel suits while women don frilly dresses and elaborate hats. This fashionable crowd often sips the unofficial drink of the Kentucky Derby: The Mint Julep. Consisting of bourbon, sugar syrup and mint, the iced drink is served most notably in a souvenir glass that lists all previous winners.

Participants and Rosie Name

Since 1975, just 20 horses have been allowed to start the race. The Kentucky Derby earned its nickname "Run for the Roses" because of the blanket of 554 red roses traditionally awarded to the winner after the race.

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Covering 147 acres, Churchill Downs, where the Derby is held, is among the most famous sporting venues in the world. It has a seating capacity of over 165,000 people.

Record Setting

The fastest horse to ever run the Kentucky Derby was Secretariat. In 1973, this Triple Crown-winning horse ran the 1 1/4 miles in 1 minute 59 seconds. The horse that ran the first Kentucky Derby took 2 minutes 27 seconds.

Television Coverage and Prize Purse

The Derby was first nationally televised in 1952. Two years later, the prize purse for the winning team first exceed $100,000. As of 2014, the purse had reached $2 million.

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