Every year, on the first Saturday in May, 170,000 people from around the world gather at Churchill Downs to witness one of the most prestigious horse races in history: The Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve. This iconic event is more than a horse race; it’s a celebration of tradition, fashion, and, of course, thoroughbred racing. For nearly 150 consecutive years, nothing has stopped the Kentucky Derby.
A Glimpse into Kentucky Derby History
The Kentucky Derby had its humble beginnings in 1875 when Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr., the grandson of the famed explorer William Clark, organized the first running of the race. Clark was inspired by the horse races he’d encountered in Europe and sought to create a similar event in the United States. With a purse of $2,850 and a crowd of around 10,000 spectators, the inaugural Derby took place at the Churchill Downs racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky. A colt named Aristides claimed the title of the first-ever Kentucky Derby winner, solidifying the race’s place in American sports history.
Traditions That Define the Kentucky Derby
May 4, 2024 will mark the 150th running of the Kentucky Derby. While the event has evolved into a historic spectacle, there are a few beloved traditions that make the Kentucky Derby what it is today.
The Garland of Roses: One of the most cherished traditions of the Kentucky Derby is the garland of roses awarded to the winning horse. The concept originated in 1883 when a New York socialite presented roses to the ladies at a Churchill Downs party. The following year, the track’s president decided to make the rose garland an official part of the race, and it has been a symbol of victory ever since. Today, the garland is made up of more than 400 red roses and draped over the winning horse in a post-race ceremony, giving the Kentucky Derby its nickname “Run for the Roses®.”
Mint Juleps: When it comes to Derby Day beverages, nothing beats the classic Mint Julep. This cocktail is synonymous with the race and has a history dating back to the 18th century. It consists of bourbon, fresh mint leaves, sugar, and crushed ice, served in a frosty silver cup. Sipping on a Mint Julep while watching the race is a tradition that many Derby-goers hold dear.
One-of-a-kind Fashion: The Kentucky Derby is as much about fashion as it is about horse racing. Attendees take this opportunity to don their finest attire, with women wearing elaborate hats and fascinators and men sporting dapper suits. The tradition of wearing extravagant hats dates back to the early 20th century when women saw it as a way to showcase their style and sophistication. The bigger and more ornate the hat, the better!
Unparalleled Luxury and Premium Experiences
The newly-renovated paddock will make its debut at the 150th Kentucky Derby. This new design more than doubles the size of the original paddock and increases the capacity inside the paddock from 1000 to 2400 people. Various new luxury club spaces will provide exclusive, intimate, and behind-the-scenes equine-focused experiences unparalleled in all of sports and entertainment. These premium club seating options will include dining tables, rail boxes, custom Chef’s tables, cocktail service, reserved racetrack viewing areas and access to private amenities along with unprecedented Paddock views.
The Woodford Reserve Paddock Club & Enclosure
The Woodford Reserve Paddock Club and Enclosure is a luxury experience that will exceed the expectations of guests with even the most discerning tastes. Offering a curated dining experience and spectacular views of the Paddock and Paddock Runway and a dedicated concierge team. It is an equine enthusiast’s dream, offering rare access into the Paddock, coupled with views directly into the Paddock stalls. This space also offers the opportunity to watch the races rail side seconds before the finish line alongside contenders’ connections.
The 1895 Club
The 1895 Club and Enclosure, named after the year the iconic Twin Spires were built, provides a luxurious, equestrian-themed dining experience coupled with views directly into the Paddock stalls and Paddock runway. This space offers a luxury outdoor equine-focused dining experiences and also offers the opportunity to watch the races on the rail.
The Kentucky Derby is more than just a horse race; it’s a captivating blend of history, tradition, and a dash of glamour. It’s where horse racing legends are born and where timeless customs continue to thrive. Whether you’re a seasoned racing enthusiast or a first-time attendee, the Kentucky Derby offers an experience like no other, and if you want to witness history in the racing at this thrilling, ultra-prestigious event, then the 150th Kentucky Derby is an event you simply can’t miss.