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May 8, 2012


Kentucky Derby – a brief history

by Jason Dutton-Smith
Kentucky Derby Racecourse

The Kentucky Derby ran this weekend in Louisville, Kentucky.  For you Aussies this would be the Melbourne Cup equivalent. The Kentucky horse racing tradition dates as far back as 1783, marking the beginning of a long racing tradition with a rich and storied past. From “The Commons” to “Shippingport”, today’s permanent location for The Kentucky Derby is at Churchill Downs; established in 1883.

Kentucky horse racing can be traced back to 1783 when locals would race around the city streets.  Here is a brief Kentucky racing timeline.

1787 – ‘The Commons’ a park like city street block was used for racing

1789 – a group of ‘safety minded’ citizens created a formal location for race meets

1805 – Racing moved to Shippingport Island and away from the city streets permanently

1827 – a new track known as Hope Distllery Course was created at a local farm

1833 – The Oakland Race Course was opened with the first formal racetrack and clubhouse

1858 – moved to Woodland Course, east of downtown Louisville, also the birth place of the Woodland Vase, a wooden trophy presented to the winner

Kentucky Derby Racecourse Aerial Shot

Kentucky Derby Racecourse Aerial Shot

By 1873, Col M. Lewis Clark was developing a racetrack to show case Kentucky breeding. The track was known as ‘Churchill Downs’, named by the Louisville Commercial Newspaper and officially opened in May 1875.

Churchill Downs was not an immediate success. It was 28 years later in 1903 and under new administration before the track showed its first true profit. The track grew in popularity over the next decade with several clubs and associations being developed. While many tracks remain in the area, Churchill Downs remains as the premier track of Kentucky.

Enter the TV revolution

The first live telecast of the Kentucky Derby aired on May 3, 1952. The popularity of the Derby in the following years exploded bringing in untold millions in revenue from wagering and tourism, thus financing further clubhouse and grandstand expansion and improvements to the track.  It was not long before the Kentucky Derby was the premier race of America and soon became known as ‘America’s Race’.

Today the Derby is an annual event that attracts over a 150,000 visitors from all over the world producing more than $100 million in wagers. The spectators themselves create a fashionable extravaganza creating something like a milliner’s dreamscape with hats of all designs dotting the field. Entertainment runs over several days and the sheer thrill of the big race is one that any racing fan should not miss.

Quick Facts

Location:  Louisville, Kentucky. Approximately 300 miles or 5 hours drive south-east of Chicago. From Nashville it’s approximately a 3 hour drive or 175 miles north-east.

When:  Beginning of May each year

Book: Now! Everything from tickets to flights to accommodation book out early.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. michael jackson beats
    May 17 2012

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  2. Anonymous
    May 18 2012

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