The Call to Post, ringing bells of the starting gates, thundering hooves on the earth, all sounds of the annual Kentucky Derby Thoroughbred race. A bucket list item for many, the Kentucky Derby boasts a week full of events in Louisville leading up to the famous race, hats, hats, and more hats, tasty mint juleps, and the stars of the show, the horses and their fearless jockeys.
Louisville, Kentucky, founded in 1778, was named for King Louis XVI of France in his appreciation for his assistance during the Revolutionary War. Nestled on the Ohio River, Louisville experienced a spark in industrial development at the advent of the steamboat in the early 1800s and since has been the largest city in Kentucky.
America’s greatest race, the Kentucky Derby, takes place on the first Saturday in May every year in Louisville at Churchill Downs. The race began in 1875 and drew almost 10,000 spectators at the inaugural event. Today, the race typically draws a crowd of 155,000 people but is hailed as bringing in record-breaking crowds of more than 170,000. It is the longest continually held sporting event in America, and it is one of the most prestigious horse races in the world.
There is a long road for a horse to get to the Derby, thirty-five races taking place at tracks across the United States and the world. Points are awarded to horses and the top twenty horses are given a spot in the starting gate at the Kentucky Derby. Often called “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports,” the race is a heart-pounding, breath-taking few moments in time – with a $2 million-dollar purse – before crowning the winner with roses. The Kentucky Derby is the first race within the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing, where it is followed by the Preakness Stakes race at Pimlico Race Course in Maryland and the Belmont Stakes race at Belmont Park in New York. Only 12 horses have won the Triple Crown, with the most recent being the handsome American Pharoah.
Over the years, the Kentucky Derby has forged some of the most identifiable traditions and symbols. We share three with you, but countless others, such as the Garland of Roses and the Winner’s Circle, exist.
Are you watching from the infield? Stick with an eclectic style. Have a seat in the grandstands? You’ll want to aim for elegance. The first Kentucky Derby was modeled off of European-style racing events and the women dressed as such. The tradition stuck, and today, you can see unique and beautiful styles of headdress under the Twin Spires.
It’s hard to show someone a picture of the Twin Spires and they not know what they are looking at. A recognized landmark around the world, the Twin Spires have become visual symbols of Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby.
A perfect combination of mint leaves, simple syrup, bourbon, ice and a mint sprig to garnish, nothing shouts the Kentucky Derby like a Mint Julep. A traditional southern cocktail to be enjoyed under the Kentucky sun while singing along to My Old Kentucky Home.
Horse racing without gambling is like the Kentucky Derby without Mint Juleps. Betting on horse racing is just as historic as the sport of horse racing itself. The betting windows at Churchill Downs are buzzing with hope minutes before the starting bells.
Traveling to Louisville and Getting Around
Louisville is at the intersection of three major interstates, I-64, I-65, and I-71, making car and bus travel a great option for arriving in the southern city. Louisville also has an international airport with American Airlines, Delta, Southwest and United airlines with nonstop service to more than 25 destinations. Churchill Downs is located just 4 miles from Louisville’s city center. Louisville is a very walkable city, making getting around enjoyable and convenient.
So what do you say? Ready to hit Louisville for the Kentucky Derby?