39 Things You Probably Didn't Know About the Kentucky Derby

Football has the Super Bowl, baseball has the World Series, tennis gets the Grand Slams, but there's no bigger day in racing than the Kentucky Derby. This year is particularly special, as the event will be celebrating its 150th anniversary when the race is run on Saturday, May 4, 2024. While you're settling in to watch the race at your Derby party, here a few fun facts about the Kentucky Derby to get everybody in the festive mood (you know, in case the mint juleps weren't enough.)

1. Nineteen past winners have had names beginning with the letter "S," including Secretariat.

2. The amount of food consumed at the Derby is pretty astounding. On average, spectators will eat 142,000 hot dogs, 18,000 barbecue sandwiches, 13,800 pounds of beef, 32,400 jumbo shrimp, 9,000 scallops, 8,000 pounds of potatoes, 30,000 cookies and 300,000 strawberries.

3. Only three horses ran in the 1892 and 1905 Kentucky Derby races.

4. It makes up one third of the coveted Triple Crown along with the Belmont Stakes and the Preakness Stakes.

5. The traditional drink of the Derby is the mint julep, and over 120,000 are said to be consumed at the race each year.

Hat, Fashion accessory, Bag, Costume, Costume design, Sun hat, Shoulder bag, Costume hat, Bouquet, Fedora,
Getty Images

6. Diane Crump was the first woman jockey to ever ride in the Derby; there has yet to be a winning female jockey, but Shelley Riley came the closest in 1992 when she came in second.

7. The Kentucky Derby trophy only weighs 3.5 lbs.

8. The title of youngest jockey to win the esteemed race is shared by Alonzo "Lonnie" Clayton and James "Soup" Perkins—both were just 15 come Derby day in 1892 and 1895, respectively. Bill Shoemaker continues to hold the title as the oldest winner; he was 54 when he took home the 1986 title.

9. Mike Smith has ridden the most Kentucky Derby horses (27) in history, beating out Bill Shoemaker's record of 26 in 2021.

10. The record low temperature at the race (traditionally held on the first weekend of May) was 47 degrees in 1935 and 1957. The record high was 94 degrees in 1959.

11. Churchill Downs founder and president Col. M. Lewis Clark might have made the rose the official flower of the race after attending an 1883 post-derby party where socialite E. Berry Wall was handing the flower out to the ladies in attendance.

Getty Images

12. The Derby is also referred to as 'The Run for the Roses' because the winner is awarded a blanket sewn with over 400 roses post-race. This blanket weighs about 40 lbs.

13. Owner Calumet Farm holds the record for most Kentucky Derby wins, with 8. "Plain Ben" Jones holds the record for trainer with the most wins (6).

14. Post No. 1 has become known as "the dreaded rail" due to its tendency to leave horses boxed in behind other racers, making it difficult to pull away from the pack.

15. 1919 champion Sir Barton was the first Triple Crown winner, however he hadn't won a race before arriving at the Derby.

16. All thoroughbred race horses have the same birthday—January 1. No matter what day a horse was born on during the year, race horse age is marked from New Year's Day in order to make it easier to keep track of bloodlines.

Crowd, People, Community, Audience, Event, Youth, Tourism, City,
Getty Images

17. Only 3 year old horses are allowed to compete in the Kentucky Derby.

18. The Derby has never been cancelled or postponed due to inclement weather.

19. The Derby has only been held on a day other than the first Saturday in May twice—once in 1945, when a wartime ban on horse racing postponed the event, and a second time in 2020 when the race was delayed until September by the COVID-19 pandemic.

20. The historic 1¼-mile race was originally 1½ miles before the current distance was established in 1896.

21. The Kentucky Derby was started by Lewis Clark Jr.—grandson of William Clark, half of the famous explorer duo Lewis and Clark—after he saw England's Epsom Derby.

22. Only three fillies (female horses) have won the Derby: Regret in 1915, Genuine Risk in 1980, and Winning Colors in 1988.

HORSE RACING: MAY 04 Kentucky Derby
Icon Sportswire - Getty Images

23. The 2018 event set the record for the wettest Kentucky Derby in history, with 3.15 inches of rainfall according to the National Weather Service.

24. The race was first televised in 1952.

25. For the 150th anniversary of the race, the purse for the Derby was raised to $5 million (up fro $3 million in 2023) with the winner taking home $3.1 million, $1 million for the runner up, $500,000 for third place, $250,000 for fourth place, and $150,000 for fifth.

26. In 2019, for the first time in the Derby's history, the horse that crossed the finish line first didn't win. The horse that ran the track fastest, Maximum Security, was disqualified for impeding another horse, resulting in the second-place finisher, Country House, being moved up to the winner's circle.

27. Secretariat remains the fastest horse in Kentucky Derby history. His 1973 record time of 1:59.40 has never been broken.

28. The slowest winning time, on the other hand, is credited to the 1891 winner, Kingman, who took 2:52.25 to complete the 1.5 miles.

29. More winning horses have come from Kentucky than any other state in the country.

30. Fact #29 comes as no surprise considering the state's expertise in the field. In fact, the thoroughbred industry is one of Kentucky's largest economic sectors.

31. The 2015 Derby drew the largest crowd in the event's history with 170,500 spectators in attendance.

32. In 2007, the Derby got royal, when Queen Elizabeth herself (a famed horse lover) attended the 133rd Kentucky Derby.

33. The first ever Kentucky Derby was won by jockey Oliver Lewis.

34. Only one Triple Crown winner, Halma, has ever sired another Tripe Crown winner, Omaha, though 12 Derby winners have been sired by other Derby winners.

35. Starting posts #5 and #10 have proved to be the luckiest—riders assigned to those posts have won more times than any of the other starting lanes.

36. Churchill Downs Racetrack was not the official name of the track until 1928.

37. Only 20 horses can run in the Derby each year, a number that was made official in 1975, making it the largest field for any single race in America.

38. No horses with names beginning with Q, X, or Y have ever won the Derby.

39. Eddie Arcaro and Bill Hartack share the title of jocky with the most Derby wins, with 5 each.

You Might Also Like