Probably the most famous horse race in the United States and "America's oldest, continuously held major sporting event"1. The Derby was first run in 1875 and was originally 1 1/2 miles long, but the length was shortened in 1896 to 1 1/4 miles. The Derby is also the first step in horse racing's Triple Crown, followed by the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. Run on the first Saturday of May at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, the race is over a dirt track and only open to three-year-old horses. Historically, most of the entries have been colts, although the occasional filly runs and, rarely, wins. An alternate race for fillies only, the Kentucky Oaks, is run the day before the Derby. Colts carry 126 pounds; fillies carry 121 pounds. The record time of 1:59 2/5 was set by Secretariat in 1973.

Spectators at the Kentucky Derby often dress formally and extravagantly. Mint juleps are the traditional drink. Since the 1920's the song "My Old Kentucky Home" has been played during the post parade. The winning horse is draped with a blanket of roses in the Winner's Circle, giving the race its other name: "The Run for the Roses".

Winners of the Kentucky Derby:

1. Churchill Downs website

She had always been fascinated by racing horses...

One of my favorite Derby memories was the Spring before my grandmother died. We lived in the same house, surrounded by a garden of perennial borders, and somehow, we decided to hold a Derby party, just the two of us. But, as we agreed, we’d do it our way, watching TV in her 1930’s Federalist Revival living room.  

 We took down some old straw hats from the attic, and I went to the craft store and got a lot of trimmings. We spent the day before, decorating two hats, as we would like to be seen in “F and G”. Mine had a fake dove on it, she preferred fresh flowers from the yard.Both used a lot of ribbons and such. 

She couldn’t drink, and I didn’t like bourbon, so we decided on iced tea as our Derby drink, with lots of crushed ice and mint. We spent a few hours making deviled eggs and other Derby-oriented snacks. 

I got a copy of the Racing Form, and “Beyer on Speed”. We each picked a horse. I can’t remember which one it was, except that we spent a lot of time talking about it. 

And we watched. Since there were a zillion commercials, I was prepared. I had “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved”, by Hunter S. Thompson. Seeing that a) Thompson was taking no drugs more controversial than heavy drinking, and b) it was, and is, a truly funny story, that pauses every so often, she and I found reading it aloud, passed around every block of commercials. 

Neither horse won, placed, or even showed. We were happy anyway. 

Can’t imagine why I’d remember this, except that if you’d like to do the Derby, this is one great way to do it.

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