12 Lighting Fast Facts for the Kentucky Derby

RealClear Staff


The 141st running of the Kentucky Derby is upon us. This is a good time to bone up on some of the historical facts and underground surprises that most people don't know about the "Fastest Two Minutes in Sports". 

Let's run for those roses. 

1. It's Not the Only Race of the Day

Far from it. Do you think all those people dress up in their fancy suits and sun dresses for two minutes of race action? 

The Kentucky Derby race itself is the main attraction, but few people who do not attend the races realize that the day is filled with races. Thirteen races to be exact. In fact, two races are actually held after the Derby. 

2. Bugling Is His Business

You know the man who plays "Call to Post" on the bugle before the Derby? That's Steve Buttleman and that's his full-time job.

(That's because Churchill Downs is open five days a week for much of the year and he also plays those races, too)

3. The Lewis and Clark Connection

Should you be thanking the Lewis and Clark expedition for the Fastest Two Minutes in Sports? 

Surprisingly, yes. It was Clark's grandson, Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr. who helped organize the Louisville Jockey Club, which went on to secure land for Churchill Downs and start the Kentucky Derby. 

4. It Used to Be Longer

Originally, the race was a mile-and-a-half. However, that distance was shortened sometime early in the running to 1.25 miles and has stayed the same for over one hundred years. 

5. It's Always Drawn a Crowd

According to records the first Kentucky Derby in 1875 drew 10,000 visitors to cheer on the race. 

That's pretty incredible, considering the population of Louisville at the time was less than 150,000 and out of town visitors were far less common than today. 

6. The Derby's African American Heritage

The first winning jockey of the Kentucky Derby was an African American, Oliver Lewis. In fact, 15 of the first 28 Derby-winning jockeys were African American. 

7. Welcome to the Future, Derby

Prior to 1925, horse racing fans had to find out the results by either being present for the Derby or reading it the next day in the newspaper. That's because this was the first year the race was broadcast live on the radio. 

8. And...They're Off!

You could say the modern era of the Derby really started in 1949. That's when a local Louisville television station broadcast the race live. 

Three years later, it was shown nationally on TV. 

9. Another First

In 1970, Diane Crump became the first female to ever jockey a horse in the Derby. She finished 15th. 

10. You Guessed It

What horse holds the fastest time around the track? Yep, not a tough one. It was Secretariat in 1973. He clocked in at 1 minute and 59 2/5 seconds. 

11. The Opposite of Glamour

Folks who have only ever watched the Kentucky Derby on television only see the glamorous side of its spectators. Movie stars and regular folks in seats that cost five-figures or more, wearing beautiful spring clothing. 

But Churchill Downs' infield is another story. Known as a alcohol fueled, scantily-clad, debaucherous party, the Derby infield is the exact opposite of its grandstands and a secret most don't know about. 

Pie Time!

Finally, another tradition most outsiders miss out on is the official pie of the Kentucky Derby. 

Appropriately named Derby Pie, it is essentially a pecan pie with a lot of chocolate. 

Finally, everyone's a winner!

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