12 Facts to Know Before This Year's Kentucky Derby

Emily VanSchmus
·4 min read

Grab your fanciest hat and mix up a cold mint julep because the Kentucky Derby is just around the corner. This May, thousands of spectators will gather at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, to watch "The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports."

But why is it called that? And what's the deal with the grand hats and mint-flavored drinks? Before we place our bets on this year's winner, we wanted to find out a bit more about the classic horse race that's become more popular than any other.

When Is the Kentucky Derby?

The Kentucky Derby is always held on the first Saturday in May. This year, the Kentucky Derby will be held on Saturday, May 1, 2021, at 5:50 p.m. CST.

Michael Hickey/Getty Images

1. It's the Longest-Running Sporting Event in the U.S.

The Kentucky Derby has the longest history of any sporting event in the country. The first race was May 17, 1875, with 15 horses competing in front of a crowd of about 10,000.

2. The Trophy Is Made of Real Gold

The Kentucky Derby trophy is smaller than you might think: It's 22 inches tall and only weighs 3.5 pounds, despite being made from 14-karat gold and perched on a jade base.

3. The Derby Has an Official Cocktail

The official drink of the Kentucky Derby is the mint julep. More than 120,000 of the cocktails are served each year at the Kentucky Derby (the venue needs more than 1,000 pounds of fresh mint to meet that demand.)

4. This Is the 147th Year of the Derby

2021 marks the 147th consecutive year of the horse race. While the event hasn't always been held on the first Saturday of May each year (it's been postponed twice), there has always been a Kentucky Derby held each calendar year.

5. The Hats Weren't Always a Tradition

The Kentucky Derby is known for fashion just as much as it's known for horse racing. For decades, women have worn big, elaborate hats to watch the race—but that wasn't always the case. Hats didn't become a popular accessory at the Derby until the mid-1960s, when the event (and the spectators) began to be televised. Around that time, women began wearing fancier clothing and extravagant hats in hopes that they'd be seen on television.

6. The Race Has an Official Flower

The official flower of the Kentucky Derby is a red rose. Each year, the winner is crowned with a garland of red roses, leading some to call the event 'The Run for the Roses.'

7. The Rose Garland Weighs More Than 40 Pounds

The famous rose garland that is draped over the winning horse is made with more than 400 red roses, which are sewn together on green satin. The garland weighs about 40 pounds—that's a lot of flowers!

8. It's Called "The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports"

For all the hype surrounding it, the actual race only lasts about two minutes—which is why it's been dubbed, "the most exciting two minutes in sports." Blink, and you'd miss it!

9. The Derby's First Winner Was Named Aristides

A chestnut thoroughbred named Aristides was the winner of the very first Kentucky Derby in 1875. He finished the race in two minutes and 37 seconds.

10. Only 3-Year-Old Horses Can Compete

Not just any horse can compete in the Derby! Only 3-year-old horses are allowed to race, which means each horse will compete only one time.

11. The Derby Has Been Postponed Just Twice

The Derby is always held on the first Saturday in May—except for the two years it was postponed: once in 1945 due to World War II, and again in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

12. The Derby Is Connected to Lewis & Clark

The Kentucky Derby was started in 1946 by Lewis Clark Jr., the grandson of William Clark. Lewis Clark Jr. had seen the Epsom Derby in England and wanted to bring the tradition to the United States.