Kentucky Derby History: Winners, Creator, and More

Social Navigation

Kentucky Derby history

Kentucky Derby History: Winners, Creator, and More


Do you know the history of the Kentucky Derby?

The first Saturday in May is upon us, which means it’s time for the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. The top thoroughbred horses will be running for the roses at the historic racetrack. Here’s everything you need to know about the Kentucky Derby history, winners, and more.

First Kentucky Derby and History

The Kentucky Derby is held annually on the first Saturday in May. Twenty horses compete in the first leg of the Triple Crown. The first Kentucky Derby traces all the way back to 1875. Churchill Downs opened that year, and the first-ever Derby raced on May 17. A horse named Aristides claimed victory.

In the first Kentucky Derby, 13 of the 15 jockeys were black, including Oliver Lewis. Lewis rode Aristides to win the Derby in 1875. Burns Murphy – one of the most famous riders in the sport’s history – was the first jockey to ride the winning horse three times, as he won in 1884, 1890, and 1891.

In 1895, the twin-spired grandstand was completed at the racetrack. Since then, the Derby has been one of the biggest events in the United States.

Race Length

The current derby is a 1.25-mile race that usually takes around 120 seconds to complete. This is why the sporting event in the United States is called the greatest two minutes in sports. The race actually started at 1.5 miles back in 1875. Aristides won by a one-quarter length over the second-place finisher in the 12-furlong race. The race was shortened to 1.25 miles in 1896.

Who Created the Kentucky Derby Horse Race?

The creator of the Kentucky Derby was Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr. He was the grandson of the famous explorer William Clark who traveled the western United States with Lewis Clark. Traveling the world helped spring the idea of the Derby. Clark Jr. traveled to Europe and met prominent figures in the horse racing business.

Clark Jr. ended up building a racing track on land owned by his uncles John and Henry Churchill. Later, he named the racetrack Churchill Downs in their honor. In 2023, we will see the 149th running of the Kentucky Derby.

Kentucky Derby Traditions

Festivals, galas, and more fill the week leading up to the Saturday at Churchill Downs. Fancy hats are a big deal as women pull out all the stops with elaborate hats while attending the event. These hats usually include wide brims, jewelry, feathers, and more.

Also, the winning horse is typically covered with a blanket made up of red roses. This is one of the reasons it’s called “running for the roses” and that nickname came about back in 1925.

Recent Winners of the Kentucky Derby

There has been plenty of drama over the years as the top horses have won the Kentucky Derby in front of thousands of spectators. Here’s a look at some of the recent winners.

2022: Rich Strike (Sonny Leon)

2021: Mandaloun (Florent Geroux)

2020: Authentic (John R. Velazquez)

2019: Country House (Flavien House)

2018: Justify (Mike E. Smith)

2017: Always Dreaming (John R. Velazquez)

2016: Nyquist (Mario Guitierrez)

2015: American Pharoah (Victor Espinoza)

Justify and American Pharoah each went on to win the Triple Crown after winning on Derby day. American Pharoah was the first Triple Crown winner since 1978.

Secretariat still holds the record for the fastest derby time. The horse ran a sub-two-minute finish at 1:59.40 back in 1973 for the fastest time ever. Monarchos came close to breaking the record in 2001 after running the race in 1:59.97 for the second-fastest time ever.

2023 Kentucky Derby

This year, some of the top horses competing at the Churchill Downs racetrack include Tapit Trice, Forte, Angel of Empire, and more.

Here’s a look at the full field for the greatest two minutes in sports. The 149th Kentucky Derby begins on NBC at 6:57 p.m. ET.

  1. Hit Show (30-1)
  2. Verifying (15-1)
  3. Two Phil’s (12-1)
  4. Confidence Game (20-1)
  5. Tapit Trice (5-1)
  6. Kingsbarns (12-1)
  7. Reincarnate (50-1)
  8. Mage (15-1)
  9. Skinner (20-1)
  10. Practical Move (10-1) (Withdrawn due to illness)
  11. Disarm (30-1)
  12. Jace’s Road (50-1)
  13. Sun Thunder (50-1)
  14. Angel of Empire (8-1)
  15. Forte (3-1)
  16. Raise Cain (50-1)
  17. Derma Sotogake (JPN) (10-1)
  18. Rocket Can (30-1)
  19. Lord Miles (30-1)
  20. Continuar (JPN) (50-1)
  21. Cyclone Mischief (30-1)
  22. Mandarin Hero (JPN) (20-1)
  23. King Russell (50-1)

The largest running sporting event sees some of the top horses that have already won a few events earlier this year. Practical Move won the Santa Anita Derby while Forte won the Florida Derby. Practical Move was recently scratched from the Derby due to an elevated temperature.

If any of these horses can pick up a victory in the first big race of the year, they have a shot to win the Triple Crown with the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes to follow.

Kentucky Derby History FAQs

When is the 2023 Kentucky Derby?

The 2023 Derby is on Saturday, May 6 at 6:57 p.m. ET. You can watch the Derby on NBC or its streaming option Peacock.

When was the first race at the Kentucky Derby and who won?

The first Derby winner was Aristides and jockey Oliver Lewis all the way back in 1875.

Why is it called Churchill Downs?

Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr. named the racetrack after his uncles John and Henry Churchill. He built the racetrack on their land.

Why is it called “running for the roses?”

Winning horses receive a blanket of roses after being victorious. The red rose is the official flower of the Kentucky Derby.

Author: Sam Russell

Sam hails from Grandville, Michigan. He has a rich sports background, including playing baseball at Central Michigan before covering high school sports and working with the Orlando Magic. He earned his degree from Central Michigan University and was a member of the 2010 MAC Championship baseball team. Sam grew his knowledge of sports betting while working with Betsperts in various areas such as writing, social media, betting research, and business development. He's a big fan of the NBA, NFL, and MLB, highly interested in data and statistics.