Held: First Saturday in May
Track: Churchill Downs Louisville, KY
Distance: 1 1/4 miles
Purse: $1 million
Record: 1:59 2/5 (Secretariat, 1973)
While visiting England during 1872-1873, Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr. decided to develop a race and track in the U.S. that would rival the Epsom Derby. The following year he purchased a parcel of land in Louisville from John and Henry Churchill to found his Louisville Jockey Club. On May 17, 1875 the first Kentucky Derby was won by Aristides over a 1 1/4 mile distance and witnessed by an estimated 10,000 spectators. The distance was changed to its present status of 1 1/4 miles in 1896.
Although the race has always been held at the same track, it was not until 1883 that it was referred to as "Churchill Downs". In a race recap printed in the Louisville Commercial the writer noted, "The crowd in the grand stand sent out a volume of voice, and the crowd in the field took it up and carried it from boundary to boundary of Churchill Downs."
The Derby took on a more national scope when Col. Matt Winn took over the track and began promoting the race in New York. By 1920, it was the best-known race in the country, and attracted the top three-year-olds. The first national telecast of the Kentucky Derby aired May 3, 1952 and its stature has grown ever since. Today the Derby attracts crowds over 100,000 and millions more through television.