In Britain we have the Epsom Derby, in France they have the Arc, but for American racing fans it doesn’t get any bigger than the Kentucky Derby. “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports”, as it is often known (even though some horses have finished in sub-2 minute times), is a Grade 1 stakes race over 1 & 1/3 miles. Like the Epsom Derby, entrance is limited to three-year-old thoroughbred horses only, so you only get one shot at landing the big prize!
This Year's Kentucky Derby
American Pharoah won with a classy performance, despite having to race wide nearly all the way having lost ground at the start. A worthy winner.
Kentucky Derby History
So what's the Kentucky Derby all about then, and how did it come to be such a big deal in the USA?
The first running of the Kentucky Derby was in 1875, at a distance of 1 ½ miles, equal to the Epsom Derby but was changed in 1896 to its current distance of 1 ¼ miles. So clearly a race steeped in history, and one of the first bigraces ever to be run in the USA.
The fastest time ever recorded over this distance was completed in 1973, when the great Secretariat finished in just 1 minute 59 seconds. Secretariat is one of the true heroes of the race and managed to complete each quarter faster than the last – an incredible feat that has never been repeated. With the new regulations in place, it seems unlikely that it ever will be.
The opening leg of the prestigious, American Triple Crown, the Derby is followed by the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. Attendance figures at the Kentucky Derby regularly outstrip that of any other race anywhere in North America. Quite simply, it's the biggest race of the year over there, equivalent to our own Grand National in terms of its appeal to the nation.
Horses can only compete in one Derby, but jockeys get to try every year and there are several big names who have taken the prize multiple times. Eddie Arcaro and Bill Hartack share the tile of overall Top Jockey with 5 wins each. Ben A. Jones is the trainer to beat, with 6 career victories to his name. Assault and Whirlaway share the record for the Record Victory Margin of 8 lengths.
Back in 2013, Churchill Downs brought in a new points system which decided which horses could line up in the Derby if there was more than 20 entries. In order to guarantee a place in the line-up, horses must now perform to a certain level in a number of specific Kentucky Derby preparation races which are picked out by the Churchill Downs authorities.
Last year's race was won by the Art Sherman trained colt, California Chrome. This was jockey Victor Espinoza’s second Derby win with Sherman, at 77 years-old, becoming the oldest trainer to win the race. Great effort Sherman, how many more will he get before he retires?