"My Old Kentucky Home" is our song.
Lyrics are at the bottom.
It's the official theme song of the Kentucky Derby.

Brownielocks and The 3 Bears
Present

Kentucky Derby History & Cartoon Fun

The first Kentucky Derby was held on May 17, 1875. There were 15 horses in contention all 3-years old. The crowd was approximately 10,000 people. The first winner was a horse named Aristides, with Oliver Lewis as his jockey (African-American).

The Kentucky Derby is one of the oldest and most prestigious sporting events in the United States held annually at Churchill Downs horse racing track in Louisville, Kentucky.  The track originally was 1.50 miles but  in 1896 was shortened to  1.25 miles in length and has remained that ever since.

 It began in 1875 and was a deliberate attempt to be much like the Epsom Derby in England (1.50 miles long), where stylish clothes and parties were as much a part of the day as the race was. The Kentucky Derby is without a doubt the biggest event in Louisville and  it is estimated that more than 10,000 parties are held in the town during "Derby Week." 

Kentucky's somewhat mild climate, rich vegetation and bluegrass (which is said to have more calcium than other grass) meadows have made it one of the favorite states in the U.S. for horse breeding and racing. 

The first horse race in Kentucky, ironically wasn't in Louisville.  It was held in Lexington in 1787.  And, the first jockey club wasn't organized until 10 years later.  Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr. established Churchill Downs (named after John and Henry Churchill, who donated the land for the racetrack.)  as the official home of the Louisville Jockey Club and was the President of the track from 1875 until 1984.  He then offered the Kentucky Derby as part of the Churchill Downs program, and limiting the race to 3 year old thoroughbreds (not carrying weight of more than 126 lbs.) only.  It wasn't until 1937 that the racetrack was officially incorporated as Churchill Downs.

 

Colonel Clark held a Derby breakfast on the day of the first derby race and that custom remains to this day. As soon as the race is over, the winner horse's owner is invited to a private party given by the President of Churchill Downs. It is also a customary tradition to sip a mint julep from a special sterling silver cup decorated with a wreath of roses and a replica of a thoroughbred horse's shoe, as authentic in detail as possible.  The cup later will join all the other previous cups won and is part of a collection that is on display at the Downs.

The race isn't very long.  It's average time is only 2 minutes in length.  However, in 1964 a horse named Northern Dancer was the first to win the race in exactly two minutes flat! Another famous horse, Secretariat (fondly known by some as Big Red) is still the only horse who has run the Derby in under two minutes -- although we're talking only fractions of a second like in Olympic games.  Secretariat was ridden by a jockey named Ron Turcotte, who rode the horse  all the way to the Triple Crown (which means he won the Belmond Stakes in June at Belmond Park in New York City + winning the Preakness run in late May at Pimlico Race Course near Baltimore, Maryland) victory!!  A horse can not be a Triple Crown winner unless he wins ALL THREE of those races in one single year.  Secretariat won the Triple Crown in 1973.

The Kentucky Derby was first shown on television on May 3, 1952.

The race may be swift, but the celebrations are far from it. The festivities go on all week including parades, steamboat races on the Ohio River and many formal dinner parties and balls.  

 

Kentucky Derby Symbols

Horse Betting  - Gambling is legal at the Kentucky Derby. It is done as parimutuel betting, which means that all bets are placed in a pool.  Out of the pool, the house takes it's share, and there are taxes. After that, all winners divide what's left in the pool. Betting on the Kentucky Derby varies from a few dollars among friends to millions of dollars among the real professionals.
(See our cartoon called Horse Betting!)

 

Mint Julep  - This is a drink that is associated with the Kentucky Derby. But how exactly isn't really known. The julep has been a Kentucky tradition since before the Civil War and many Kentuckians pride themselves on their own special julep recipes.  The basic ingredients are:
Fresh Picked Mint
Sugar
Kentucky Bourbon
All served over crushed ice in a frosted silver cup or souvenir Derby glass. The Mint Julep drink is a symbol of southern hospitality and social grace, both of which are on display during Derby week. Unlike other celebrations, Derby week for the most part, remains a class-act celebration with little problems of civil disobedience or other situations.


Red Roses - Since 1932, it has been a Louisville tradition for a group of women to sew a bunch of red rosebuds into a blanket to be worn by the winning horse. It is believed that the tradition was started back in 1881 when socialite E.Barry Wall from New York was giving roses to the ladies at a party after the race. The president of Churchill Downs at that time saw this, and decided to make the rose the official flower of the race.  However, it wasn't until 1896 that a wreath of red roses was first placed on the winning horse's neck. The wreath is a symbol of victory, much like the wreath was in the Greek Olympic days and today's Boston Marathon. This is why sometimes the race is also called, "The Run For The Roses."  Dan Fogelberg recorded a song with that title in 1980 for The Kentucky Derby.

The Governor of Kentucky is the one who puts the rose wreath around the winning horse's neck, as well as presents the trophy to the owner and jockey.

"My Old Kentucky Home" - It's the theme song and is sung prior to the race.  It's also the song on this page. Lyrics are below:

 


"My Old Kentucky Home"
by Stephen Collins Foster -1853

The sun shines bright on my old Kentucky home,
'Tis summer, the people are gay;
The corn top's ripe and the meadow's in the bloom,
While the birds make music all the day.

The young folks roll on the little cabin floor,
All merry, all happy and bright;
By'n by hard times comes a-knockin' at the door,
Then my old Kentucky home, good-night!

Weep no more, my lady!
Oh weep no more today.
We will sing one song for my old Kentucky home,
For my old Kentucky home, far away.

Partial Source: "Holiday Symbols, 2nd Edition"
Sue Ellen Thompson
Omnigraphics, Inc. 2000

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