The Kentucky Derby isn’t just another horse race. An American institution since 1875, the annual competition draws hundreds of thousands of spectators to Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, to witness the “run of the roses” — a one-and-a-quarter-mile dash for immortality. But there’s more to the Derby than a bunch of thoroughbreds kicking up dirt. To prepare you for the 137th running on May 7, Men’s Fitness teamed up with Woodford Reserve to bring you five facts you may not have known about the legendary race.
1. The Kentucky Derby was first run in 1875 under the auspices of Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr. The grandson of William Clark of Lewis & Clark fame, the colonel founded the Louisville Jockey Club after being impressed by the horse races he’d seen in France and England — specifically the Epsom Derby. With financial help from his relatives, John and Henry Churchill, he was able to build the Churchill Downs racetrack, which has hosted the Derby ever since.
2. The race is called “the fastest two minutes in sports” for obvious reasons, but the legendary racehorse Secretariat was able to break that time barrier in 1973. Finishing the race in 1:59.4 seconds, the colt set a track record that still stands to this day. In 2001, a stallion named Monarchos became the second horse to beat two minutes, running the Derby in 1:59.97
3. The Derby is all about tradition. The band plays “My Old Kentucky Home,” women wear awesome hats, everyone eats a stew called burgoo and the winner gets draped in a blanket of roses. The flowers became the trademark of the event after an 1883 party where all the female guests were given roses, but it wasn’t until 1896 that they started being presented to the victor. There are 554 roses on each garland, if anyone is counting.
4. The “run for the roses” may be the most highly attended event in all of horseracing, but there’s a lot more going on than just a 120-second race. Every year, The Kentucky Derby Festival is held in Louisville during the two weeks leading up to the running. Home to lesser known competition like a steamboat race and a hot air balloon competition, the celebration’s most popular event is “Thunder over Louisville” — the largest fireworks display in all of North America.
5. With so many people coming to Louisville to party, a lot of celebrating goes on and the drink of choice is definitely bourbon—specifically mint juleps. A sweet mix of bourbon, mint and sugar, the drink has been served at the race since 1938 with an estimated 120,000 being imbibed every year. The more discerning Derby-goer can enjoy a $1,000-version of the beverage, which is made with a special selection of Woodford Reserve bourbon, rare chocolate mint, bourbon smoked sugar and ice imported from the island of Tasmania. Try not to spill it.