You'll Never Guess Who Founded Churchill Downs, the Iconic Kentucky Derby Venue
With the Kentucky Derby just around the corner, all eyes are turning to Churchill Downs, the iconic venue where the "Run for the Roses" takes place. As the most famous racecourse in America, Churchill Downs has a rich history and an important place in the country's sporting heritage.
Churchill Downs is also a National Historic Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The venue's distinctive twin spires are recognized around the world, and the iconic grandstand, which dates back to the 1890s, has undergone numerous renovations over the years to keep it up to date and able to accommodate over 150,000 spectators annually. Read on for more facts on Louisville's must-visit destination.
Churchill Downs Founding
Churchill Downs was founded in 1875 by Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr., the grandson of William Clark of the Lewis and Clark expedition. The first Derby was held at Churchill Downs in 1875, and it has taken place every year since then except for 2020 when it was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Early Derby Days
The first Kentucky Derby was held at Churchill Downs on May 17, 1875, and was won by a horse named Aristides by two lengths. The first race was longer, at 1.5 miles compared to the current 1.25.
Iconic Architectural Features
The Churchill Downs racetrack covers 147 acres and has a capacity of 170,000 spectators. The iconic twin spires that sit atop the grandstand are the most recognizable feature of the venue.
The Race Itself
The Kentucky Derby is often referred to as the "most exciting two minutes in sports" because it typically only takes about two minutes for the horses to complete the 1.25-mile race. However, the festivities leading up to the race, including the famous mint juleps and elaborate hats worn by attendees, can last for days.
The Race Winnings
The Kentucky Derby is a Grade I stakes race, meaning it is one of the highest quality horse races in the world. The purse for the 2021 Kentucky Derby was $3 million, with the winning horse, Medina Spirit, taking home $1.8 million of that.
Other Races at Churchill Downs
Churchill Downs is also home to other major horse racing events throughout the year, including the Kentucky Oaks, which takes place the day before the Kentucky Derby and is also a Grade I stakes race. The venue has hosted the Breeders' Cup eight times and will do so again in 2023.
The Call to the Post
A bugle call signals that the horses and jockeys are about to enter the track and make their way to the starting gate. It is typically played a few minutes before the start of each race, and serves as a cue for spectators to take their seats and prepare for the upcoming race.
The Kentucky Derby has a long history of traditions, including the playing of "My Old Kentucky Home" by the University of Louisville Marching Band as the horses make their way onto the track. The race also has a signature drink, the mint julep, which is made with bourbon, sugar, water, and mint leaves.
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