If you’re someone who’s really into sports and prefers fashion over comfort, then following the Kentucky Derby might be a thing for you. For over a hundred of years, this sporting event has become a tradition for many American families. One of these traditions is the showing off of your newest set of hats. Yes, hats. The Kentucky Derby wouldn’t be the Kentucky Derby we know and love this day if it weren’t for the oversized hats that vary from extreme to elegant. Some people might even say that they only attend the Derby for the annual pageantry of hats (you didn’t hear it from me.) So what are the things you need to know when you want to follow this racing event, hold on to your mint juleps (a cocktail with a base of Old Forester Straight Bourbon Whiskey with sprigs of fresh mint served in a silver cup that has associated itself with this event for over a hundred years) as I guide you through the things you need to know for you to be ready for this year’s 145th Kentucky Derby.
First things first, what is the Kentucky Derby? The Derby is an annual horse racing event, which takes on the first Saturday of May, in Louisville, Kentucky, USA. The first derby in Kentucky happened on May 17, 1875. Inspired from England’s very own Epsom Derby, Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr., decided to organize Kentucky’s very first run. The first Kentucky Derby ran at 1 ½ miles had fifteen three-year-old horses, and had an estimated crowd of ten thousand people. Successful as it was, it wasn’t until May 16th of 1925 was the Kentucky Derby broadcasted live on the radio, allowing all of North America to follow this age old event. By this time even people who weren’t able to fly to Kentucky are given the chance to participate to this racing event, and by May 7th of 1949, the first live television of the Kentucky Derby took place, showing all of America what spectacular event the Kentucky Derby is.
Events like this don’t go down in history by being the biggest race in the world, no; events like this go down in history by having millions of committed families from around the world who believe attendance is a must at the Kentucky Derby. Traditions like attending this week long event are being passed down to generations by some families, it most important especially when this two minute race has a festival before hand, consisting of cocktails, thick stew of beef chicken pork and vegetables, and of course, the lavish outfits accessorized with elaborate hats.
Hats, contrary to popular belief, don’t make the greatest two minutes in sports. I personally believe it is when a couple of hundred thousand attendees sing to My Old Kentucky Home when the band strikes up as the horses step onto the track for the Derby’s post parade. The feeling of being a part of something big is what some people go back to every year to Kentucky. So if this is your first time following this event, better learn My Old Kentucky Home by Stephen Foster (need not to worry, I will provide you with the lyrics):
The sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home,
Tis summer, the people are gay;
The corn-top’s ripe and the meadow’s in the bloom
While the birds make music all day.
The young folks roll on the little cabin floor
All merry, all happy and bright;
By’n by hard times comes a knocking at the door
Then my old Kentucky home, goodnight!
Weep no more my lady.
Oh! Weep no more today!
We will sing one song for the old Kentucky home
For the old Kentucky home, far away.
Chills! Am I right? Since 1936, attendees has been singing along to this song as the Louisville Marching Band give off a spectacular performance, making their way from the paddock to the starting gate. Even though there is no definitive history of when My Old Kentucky Home actually became a part of this racing event, I believe it is safe to say that when everyone in the stand starts to sing to the song the marching band is performing, it has become a part of tradition.
Aside from singing with hundreds of thousands of people, Kentucky Derby attendees also fly to Kentucky for the historical landmark it provides. The Twin Spires is a landmark recognizable by its iconic hexagonal spires in Churchill Downs. Visitors from all around the world, make sure they get to go and see this monument, for the beauty of symmetry and balance of this craft has become not only Churchill Downs’ landmark, but for the whole of Kentucky.
Okay, enough about tradition, let’s talk about the people that you will get to mingle at the Derby Day event. The Kentucky Derby has become an event where seeing and being with the rich and famous is a norm. Since the beginning of this event, celebrities not only from Hollywood, but from all around the globe fly down to Kentucky to witness this spectacle. One of the first actresses being spotted to attend the Kentucky Derby dates way back in 1877, when famed Polish actress Helena Modjeska flew down to Kentucky to attend the third running of the Kentucky Derby. Aside from the rich and famous, powerful politicians also attend this horse racing event. Fun fact: seven of these politicians were, and some, have become the United State president. However, Richard M. Nixon was the only one who has attended the Kentucky Derby while still serving the oval office.
While powerful politicians go down to Kentucky for the this event, royalties from the country of this event’s inspiration, fly all the way from the other side of the globe to witness this horse racing event. Some of these royalties are: Edward George Villiers Stanley, the 17th Earl of Derby whose family name gave life to the sporting event Derby. Edward VIII the Duke of Windsor, who romantically renounced his British throne after falling in love with Wallace Simpson. Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon, Princess Margaret was the sister of Queen of England while Lord Snowdon was a British photographer and film maker who was known to live a lavish lifestyle. Last but definitely not the least is Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Prince Philip was the Duke of Edinburgh who was born into the Greek and Danish royal families while Queen Elizabeth II was the first born child of the Duke and Duchess of York, making her the heir of the United Kingdom.
Now that we have covered the basics, let’s move on the race itself. The race would be competed between 20 three year old horses, which would then need to finish 35 races, excluding the main track at Twin Spires. The four top horses that finish the races would earn a spot at the starting gate in the Kentucky Derby race which has a winning purse of 2 million dollars. All tracks run on dirt, the differences are the length of each race. Now that you know how the race runs, I will teach you how to bet on the horse of your choice.
Placing a win bet, would mean that the horse of your choice would need to win in order for you to win. When you put a place bet, that would mean your horse must win or finish second for you to win. Now if you place a show bet, that means your horse mush finish first, second or third for you to win. Calculating the betting odds can be confusing, as the odds get higher as the bets get higher; no one really knows the odds of their wager until the betting window closes and the race stars. However, looking at last year’s winner can help you decide on who and which type of bet you would consider for this year’s 145th Kentucky Derby.