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Kentucky Derby in the United States

The Kentucky Derby is an annual horse race held in Louisville, Kentucky. Also sometimes known as the "Fastest Two Minutes in Sports," the event inaugurates the Triple Crown, a series of three horse races.

©iStockphoto.com/Thomas Kelley

The Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes are the other two races in the Triple Crown.

Held on the first Saturday of May since 1875, the thoroughbred race is a Grade I Stakes race.

Is Kentucky Derby Day a Public Holiday?

The Kentucky Derby is always held on the first Saturday of May, which is a non-working day in the United States.

Holidays in the United States

How Is the Kentucky Derby Celebrated?

The Derby, which is the most attended horse race in North America, has some long-standing traditions associated with it. Spectators are expected to be dressed well, and the event is often seen as a showcase of the season's fashion in some circles. Since the 1960s, women attendees, inspired by their European counterparts, often wear elaborate hats as part of their outfits, which have now come to be recognized as a Kentucky Derby tradition.

Run for the Roses

The rose is the official flower of the race, and winners have always been awarded roses as part of the award ceremony. Because of this, the event has been nicknamed "The Run for the Roses." Since 1932, the winners have been awarded a garland of over 400 roses sewn on a satin back. Among the motifs on the garland are a crown and a crest of the Commonwealth.

Mint Juleps

Mint Juleps—a drink made of mint, sugar syrup, and bourbon—is the official drink of the race. According to some sources, about 120,000 glasses of this beverage are sold during the two-day event, which includes the Kentucky Oaks. Held on the Friday before the Kentucky Derby, the Kentucky Oaks is also a Grade 1 Stakes race for 3-year-old Thoroughbred fillies. Fillies are young, usually under four years old, female horses

Many derby day parties serve burgoo, a uniquely Kentuckian stew with beans and okra.

My Old Kentucky Home

Every year, an anti-slavery ballad, My Old Kentucky Home, written by Stephen Foster in 1852, is played as the horses are led down the track to the start line. It is unclear when the tradition began. In recent times, the University of Louisville Marching Band has played this iconic song each year.

What Is the Kentucky Derby?

The Kentucky Derby is a competitive race for three-year-old Thoroughbred horses and is part of the Triple Crown. 20 horses compete for prize money on a 2.01 km (1.25 miles) dirt track.

Geldings and colts are required to carry 57 kg (126lb) and fillies 55 kg (121lb) while running the race. A gelding is a castrated male horse, a colt is a young male horse, while a filly is a young female horse.

To qualify, horses compete in 35 races around the world. The top four horses in each of these races are given points. 20 horses with the most points qualify for the Kentucky Derby.

To win the Triple Crown, a horse has to win the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes. So far, only 12 horses have won the Triple Crown.

History of the Kentucky Derby

The prestigious race was the brainchild of Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr., who was inspired by the races he saw during his travels in Europe. Clark, whose grandfather was William Clark of the Lewis and Clark expedition, started the Kentucky Derby with the help of the Louisville Jockey Club. The land for the now iconic Churchill Downs, the venue where the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby are held, was donated by Clark's uncles John and Henry Churchill.

Fifteen Thoroughbreds ran the first ever Kentucky Derby on May 17th, 1875, in front of about a thousand people. The length of the track was reduced to 1.25 miles from 1.50 miles in 1896.

Until 1930, there was no fixed date for the Derby. It was held in mid-May with the race organizers deciding on the date on their own. In 1931, the date was moved to the first Saturday of May to maintain a proper schedule with the other two Triple Crown races.

Along with the Kentucky Oaks, the Kentucky Derby is the oldest continuously run sports event in the US. They are also the only two horse races that take place in the same location as their inaugural event.

Kentucky Derby Observances

YearWeekdayDateNameHoliday Type
2015SatMay 2Kentucky DerbySporting event
2016SatMay 7Kentucky DerbySporting event
2017SatMay 6Kentucky DerbySporting event
2018SatMay 5Kentucky DerbySporting event
2019SatMay 4Kentucky DerbySporting event
2020SatMay 2Kentucky DerbySporting event
2021SatMay 1Kentucky DerbySporting event
2022SatMay 7Kentucky DerbySporting event
2023SatMay 6Kentucky DerbySporting event
2024SatMay 4Kentucky DerbySporting event
2025SatMay 3Kentucky DerbySporting event

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