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Everything You Need to Know About the Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby is without question the best known race in the United States. The famous event is held annually at Churchill Downs Racecourse in Louisville, Kentucky, on the first Saturday in May. It attracts the finest three-year-old thoroughbreds of the season with a purse of over $2 million.

A Prestigious Event
in the US

The Kentucky Derby is open to Group 1 thoroughbreds aged three. The field size was limited to 20 starters in 1975 and remains so today. It runs over a distance of ten furlongs on a left-handed course. Colts are held to a weight requirement of 9 stones and fillies have a five pound allowance carrying 8st-9lbs.

fact file

location: Churchill Downs Racecourse

grade: Group 1

race type: Flat race

A Historic Race in US History

The Kentucky Derby is the first leg of the United States Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing and is a three event cup modelled on the English Triple Crown series. The US Triple Crown is completed by the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes.

Inaugurated in 1875, the Kentucky Derby is one of the country's longest established thoroughbred races. The event was established by Meriwether Lewis Clark who was inspired after attending the Epsom Derby in England. The initial distance was 12 furlongs or a mile and a half. In 1896, the length was shortened by a quarter of a mile and has remained so ever since.

With a purse of $2 million, it's no surprise that the 'Derby' is a fierce contest only suitable for the best horses and the best riders. Consequently, success in the Kentucky Derby guarantees recognition on the international horse racing scene.


Many iconic racing personalities have left a mark on this legendary race, from famous horses to revered jockeys and trainers (as of 2017).

  • The1973 winner Secretariat set a record time of 1 minute and 59.40 seconds for the distance of 10 furlongs.

  • The title of most successful jockey is currently shared by Eddie Arcaro and Bill Hartack who racked up five wins each between 1938-1952 and 1957-1969 respectively.

  • Ben A. Jones is the most successful Kentucky Derby trainer with six winners from 1938 to 1952.

  • Bay horses have dominated this event with 55 wins as of 2017.

  • Four horses are tied for the record of widest-margin win by 8 lengths including Old Rosebud (1914), Johnstown (1939), Whirlaway (1941), and Assault (1946).

Best Moments

The mere mention of the Kentucky Derby will have American horse racing fans misty-eyed reminiscing about their most memorable races (as of 2017).

jockey racing horse
  • Only three fillies have won a Derby including Regret (1915), Genuine Risk (1980), and Winning Colors (1988). Each year this occurs is considered a momentous occasion.

  • In 1914, Old Rosebud gave the best performance since the inaugural running by setting two new records - fastest time (2:03.04) and widest-margin (8L).

  • In 1919, Sir Barton became the first to win the US Triple Crown.

  • Arguably the best horse to compete, Secretariat is the current record holder for fastest time and ninth winner of the Triple Crown.

  • 2015 was momentous as American Pharaoh became the first in four decades to win a Triple Crown since 1978's Affirmed.