The Kentucky Derby has welcomed thousands of people to Louisville, Kentucky since the first race in 1875. The derby is also widely watched by people at home, since its first nationally televised race in 1952.
The race, started by Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr., has become the longest-running sporting event in United States history. Today, millions get involved in the race, whether it’s visiting Churchill Downs, derby-themed viewing parties, or gambling.
There have been numerous memorable moments in the Kentucky Derby. These are just a few.
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- 1875: Aristides is the first winner of the Kentucky Derby
- 1915: The first mare is crowned
- 1919: Sir Barton is the first to win the Triple Crown
- 1952: The derby is televised nationally
- 1968: Dancer’s Image receives no prize money
- 1973: Secretariat becomes (and remains) the fastest derby winner
- 1986: The oldest jockey wins the derby
- 2009: Mine That Bird goes from worst to first
- 2019: Country House win the derby after a disqualification
- 2022: Rich Strike wins the derby after a last-minute signing
1. 1875: Aristides is the first winner of the Kentucky Derby
The first Kentucky Derby was won by Aristides and his jockey Oliver Lewis in 1875.
The first race hosted about 10,000 fans at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, where they experienced the historic derby, according to the Kentucky Derby website.
Aristides won with a time of just over 2 minutes and 30 seconds, according to the site. At the time of the victory, Lewis was only 19 years old. It was the only derby in which he competed.
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The winning prize for the first race was $2,850, according to the source.
During the early stages of the derby, the race was 1.5 miles long. In 1896, it was reduced to 1.25 miles, the distance that is still in use today.
2. 1915: The first mare is crowned
It wasn’t until 1915 that a filly, a mare, became the first to cross the finish line of the Kentucky Derby, according to the Kentucky Derby website.
Regret won that race. Since then, they have only won two other mares.
The next trophy a mare took home wasn’t until 1980, when Genuine Risk won. Winning Colors took first place in 1988. The three winners were the only female horses in the race at the time of their wins.
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In all, 40 fillies have competed in the Kentucky Derby, according to the site.
3. 1919: Sir Barton is the first to win the Triple Crown
The first horse to win the Triple Crown was Sir Barton in 1919, according to the Kentucky Derby site.
The Triple Crown is the highest achievement in horse racing. To win the Triple Crown, a horse must win the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes.
In Kentucky Derby history, only 13 horses have accomplished the feat.
Horses that have won the Triple Crown:
- Lord Barton (1919)
- Gallant Fox (1930)
- Omaha (1935)
- War Admiral (1937)
- Whirlpool (1941)
- Count Fleet (1943)
- Assault (1946)
- Rendezvous (1948)
- Secretariat (1973)
- Seattle Shaw (1977)
- Affirmed (1978)
- American Pharaoh (2015)
- Justify (2018)
4. 1952: The derby is televised nationally
The derby was first televised in 1952, according to History.com.
That race was won by American Thoroughbred Hill Gail, jockey Eddie Arcaro and trainer Ben A. Jones, according to the Kentucky Derby website.
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5. 1968: Dancer’s Image receives no prize money
In 1968, the derby winner did not receive any prize money, according to History.com.
Dancer’s Image, that year’s winning horse, held the title for three days before being disqualified for drugs, according to the source.
When Dancer’s Image was tested for drugs after the race, traces of phenylbutazone, a pain reliever for horses, were found. At the time of the race, there was a zero tolerance policy for drugs on horses, according to History.com.
It was later discovered that the drug was given to the horse about a week before the race, but some was still in his system at the time of the derby. He was then disqualified and second place horse Forward Pass was named the new winner.
The battle did not end there. There was an ongoing legal battle when Dancer’s Image owner Peter D. Fuller sued. The battle lasted almost five years, according to History.com. Ultimately, Fuller lost, and Calumet Farm, the owners of Forward Pass, received prize money.
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6. 1973: Secretariat becomes (and remains) the fastest derby winner
The 1973 race is one of the most historic in Kentucky Derby history. Thoroughbred Secretariat won the race with a record time of 1:59.40.
As of 2023, no other horse has passed the Secretariat time. The horse also went on to be a Triple Crown winner.
7. 1986: The oldest jockey wins the derby
In 1986, Bill Shoemaker became the oldest jockey to win the Kentucky Derby, according to History.com.
At the time of his victory on the horse Ferdinand, he was 54 years old.
8. 2009: Mine That Bird goes from worst to first
One of the biggest comebacks in Kentucky Derby history happened in 2009.
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Mine That Bird, a horse ridden by jockey Calvin Borel, was in last place for most of the race. In fact, Mine That Bird wasn’t even mentioned until NBC host Tom Durkin shared that the horse was «way behind the pack.»
Mine That Bird remained at the back of the pack until the final stretch of the race, where she seemingly came out of nowhere and overtook all the other horses. The horse finished in first place and making history as one of the greatest comebacks, beating the odds of 50 to 1.
9. 2019: Country House win the derby after a disqualification
Country House was the second place winner of the derby in 2019, but ended up taking home a win after winner Maximum Security was disqualified from the race shortly after its conclusion.
After review, it was determined that Maximum Security drifted slightly out of his lane towards the end of the race, which was determined to have affected some of the other horses in the race.
This led to Country House, the derby runner-up, taking victory.
10 2022: Rich Strike wins the derby after a last-minute signing
Rich Strike had 80-to-1 odds to win and finished victorious in the 2022 Kentucky Derby, causing quite the upset.
Rich Strike joined the derby lineup late after Ethereal Road withdrew. The horse then won the 148th Kentucky Derby with jockey Sonny Leon and trainer Eric Reed.