The Kentucky Derby
There are few American sporting events with the history and popularity of the Kentucky Derby. Since 1875, the race has continuously produced “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports,” uninterrupted – even when coinciding with profound historical events like the Great Depression and two World Wars. Its rich traditions – sipping a mint julep from a silver cup, donning a beautiful hat and belting out “My Old Kentucky Home” with fellow race fans – have become just as iconic as the race itself.
The Kentucky Derby takes place on the first Saturday in May every year. More than 150,000 fans gather under the iconic twin spires of Churchill Downs, with millions more watching at home, but any Kentuckian will tell you: there’s nothing like the real thing.
The Road to Derby Day
Twenty horses compete in the Run for the Roses® – a larger field size than most horse races, which typically average eight. Those 20 horses must first travel the Road to the Kentucky Derby, a series of 35 races taking place at tracks across the country and the world. Points are awarded to the top four finishers in each of those races, and the 20 horses with the most points earn a coveted spot at the starting gate at Churchill Downs. The Derby is the first race in the legendary Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing, followed by the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes.
Kentucky Derby Fast Facts:
Grade: Grade I stakes race
Horses: Three-year-old thoroughbreds
Distance: 1¼ miles
Purse: $3 Million
More Than Just a Race
The race itself lasts just two minutes, but the Derby is more like a marathon. In fact, Derby Day is just one aspect of the month-long Kentucky Derby Festival, which kicks off with Thunder Over Louisville, one of the largest annual fireworks displays in the country.
In the leadup to the Kentucky Derby, there are several other horse races that deserve your attention. Locals love Thurby, a race held the Thursday before the Derby. The next night, Kentucky Oaks is America’s premier race for three-year-old fillies (female horses). Whichever race you attend, be sure to visit the paddock to see the horses up close.
Learn more about the Kentucky Derby >
Kentucky Derby Museum
Every Day is Derby Day at the Kentucky Derby Museum! Explore two floors of interactive exhibits, take an exclusive tour of historic Churchill Downs and get your heart racing and emotions soaring watching the Museum’s signature 18-minute movie on a 360°, 4k high resolution screen.