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The Founding of the Kentucky Derby

The Founding of the Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby is famous for traditions such as sipping a mint julep, donning a beautiful hat, and joining fellow race fans in singing “My Old Kentucky Home”. It is the longest running sporting event in the United States, dating back to 1875. 

The race is often referred to as "The Run for the Roses®" and  has continuously produced “the most exciting two minutes in sports”. It has even gone on uninterrupted during historical events like The Great Depression and World Wars I & II.

The Kentucky Derby' story began in 1872, when Meriwether Lewis Clark, the grandson of William Clark of the famed pair Lewis and Clark, traveled to Europe. He attended the Epsom Derby in England, a historical horse race run since 1780, and also met the French Jockey Club, which developed another popular horse race, the Grand Prix de Paris Longchamps.

Clark returned and was determined to create a similar event in the States. With the help of his uncles, John & Henry Churchill, who gifted Clark the necessary land to develop a racetrack, he and his newly founded Louisville Jockey Club raised funds to build a permanent racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky. 

On May 17th, 1875, the racetrack opened its gates and the Louisville Jockey Club sponsored the very first Kentucky Derby. Fifteen Thoroughbred horses raced one and a half miles for a cheering crowd of approximately 10,000 spectators. Who was the first winner of Kentucky Derby? The three-year-old Thoroughbred, Aristides.