Analysis. History. Perspective.

Sports Then and Now

Horse Racing in Kentucky: An Upgrade in Tradition

Posted on April 03, 2015 by Ashley Andrews
Churchill Downs is the most famous horse track in America.

Churchill Downs is the most famous horse track in America.

Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky is one of the most recognizable track names in the U.S. Opening in 1875, this über famous racetrack has been the home of the Kentucky Derby and Oats ever since the race’s founding, and many other races throughout history. The closing of two earlier tracks in Kentucky paved the way for Churchill Downs to replace them in a major way. As one of the most popular sports at the time, Kentucky needed a horse racing track, and a man named Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr. delivered. The track is actually named after the men who leased the land to Clark, John and Henry Churchill.

By 1902, Churchill Downs came under the control of a man named Matt Winn, who turned the track into a prestigious display of thoroughbred racing, steering away from its late-1800s reputation of being a gambling site. Being a 1 ¼ mile track, Winn and his business partners decided to use the track for more than just horses. They built a clubhouse, and began using the facility for things like auto racing and concerts. The reputation, sophistication, and discernment of Churchill Downs came to full realization when it was officially staked as a National Historic Landmark in 1986.

Today, the track is still home of the most famous horse races in North America, and continues to expand its capabilities and pliability by introducing events like night horse races, concert tours, and state fairs. The track has reached a total size of 147 acres, far exceeding its original size of 80 acres. This allows for the 150,000 attendants of the Derbies, especially the Kentucky Derby, and the sizable crowds that come for the 360° cinema.

Betting is still very much a part of the sport, as it is said to add to the discernment of such a fine sport as horse racing. Historically, there have been tellers and machines on site to place bets, but with the astonishing waves of technology lately, you can now bet on the Kentucky Derby online! This is a great way to make the race even more exciting, even if you aren’t physically attending.

Participating in both the bets and signature drinks of the Derby are almost essential to the full experience of the Kentucky Derby.

The awards ceremony is quite a sight to see. The Kentucky Derby, also referred to as “The Run for the Roses”, has a purse this year of $2 million. That’s no small chunk of change! Also, a blanket of roses, as the alternate name suggests, is laid across the winner of the race. The blanket, also called the “Garland of Roses”, consists of 554 fresh-picked red roses, which were decided upon as a result of the astounding response to the handing out of red roses to the ladies attending the derbies in the early years of the track. On top of that, the winner is also given a 56oz. trophy, which is made mostly of 14-karat gold, except for the horse and rider sitting atop the trophy, which are made of 18-karat gold. Just to give you an idea, the trophy from the 2008 Kentucky Derby was worth a total of $90,000 and 2,000 man-hours of labor.

As you can tell from the prizes, traditions, and history of this race, it is one that is superior to most others, and is second to none in quality, fineness, and prestige. It is truly a remarkable event to witness, just as Churchill Downs itself is an incredible place to see for yourself. The hard work and care that go into maintaining such a marvelous venue really show in the beauty and attention-to-detail that every single sight at Chuchill Downs reveals.

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