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Just in time for the 144th Kentucky Derby, we share with you some history, interesting facts, and a recipe of the unique event and its official drink, the mint julep!

What is the Kentucky Derby?

The Kentucky Derby takes place on the first Saturday in May every year, and typically draws a crowd of 155,000 people. It is the longest continuously held sporting event in America, and it is one of the most prestigious horse races in the world. Often called “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports”, the Kentucky Derby receives this nickname from the approximate length of time it takes the winner to run from the starting gate to the finish line. The Kentucky Derby is the first race in the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing, where it is followed by the Preakness Stakes race and the Belmont Stakes race.

History of the Kentucky Derby:

The Kentucky Derby’s long history began in 1872, when Meriwether Lewis Clark, the grandson of William Clark – of the famed pair Lewis and Clark – traveled to Europe. While there, Clark attended the Epsom Derby in England, a well-known horse race run since 1780, and also fraternized with the French Jockey Club, a group that developed another popular horse race, the Grand Prix de Paris Longchamps. Clark was inspired by his travels and experiences, and, upon his return, was determined to create a spectacle horse racing event in the States. With the help of his uncle’s John & Henry Churchill, who gifted Clark the necessary land to develop a racetrack, and by formally organizing a group of local race fans to be named the Louisville Jockey Club, Clark and his new club raised funds to build a permanent racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky. On May 17th, 1875, the racetrack opened its gates and the Louisville Jockey Club sponsored the very first Kentucky Derby. A total of fifteen three-year-old Thoroughbred horses raced one and a half miles in front of a cheering crowd of approximately 10,000 spectators. Aristides was the first winner of the Kentucky Derby.

Who Races?

20 horses compete in the Kentucky Derby, which is a larger field size than most horse races; where on average 8 horses race against one another. The 20 horses racing in the Kentucky Derby must first travel along the Road to the Kentucky Derby, which is a series of 35 races taking place at tracks across the country and the world. Points are awarded to the top 4 horses that finish in each of those 35 races, and the 20 horses with the most points earn a spot in the starting gate in the Kentucky Derby race. The Kentucky Derby winning purse is $2 million.

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Kentucky Derby Interesting Facts:

  • The youngest jockey to win the esteemed race, Alonzo “Lonnie” Clayton, was just 15 come derby day in 1892
  • Bill Shoemaker continues to hold the title as the oldest winner; he was 54 when he took home the 1986 title (He has also ridden the most Kentucky Derby horses (26) in history)
  • The Derby is also referred to as ‘The Run for the Roses’ because the winner is awarded a 40lbs blanket sewn with over 400 roses post-race
  • Over $150 million in wagers have been placed over the last several Kentucky Derby races.
  • Horses must be 3 years or younger in order to compete
  • 19 past winners have had names beginning with the letter “S,” including Secretariat, the fastest horse in Kentucky Derby history, who completed the 1973 race in just under two minutes
  • 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.
  • On Derby Day the infield will hold around 80,000 revelers, making it Kentucky’s third-largest city, behind Lexington + Louisville
  • The 1¼-mile distance has been standard since 1896 (The first 21 were contested at 1½ miles)
  • Fourteen female trainers have competed, with Shelley Riley coming closest to winning!
  • Thousands of elegantly dressed women will grace Churchill Downs on Saturday - specifically with really colorful, large hats!
  • Southern hospitality surrenders shamelessly to greed on Derby weekend, when you can pay at least $300 a night for a Louisville motel room that costs $55 any other time
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Mint Julep Interesting Facts:

  1. It became the official drink of the Kentucky Derby in 1983!
  2. Traditionally, mint juleps were often served in silver or pewter cups + held only by the bottom and top edges of the cup (This allows frost to form on the outside of the cup)
  3. The term “julep” is generally defined as a sweet drink, particularly one used as a vehicle for medicine.
  4. The first appearance of a mint julep in print came in a book by John Davis published in London in 1803, where it was described as “a dram of spirituous liquor that has mint steeped in it, taken by Virginians of a morning.”
  5. May 30th is National Mint Julep Day
  6. It takes 7,800 liters of bourbon and 2,250 pounds of locally grown mint to make the 120,000 Mint Juleps sold at Churchill Downs during Kentucky Derby weekend
  7. The first Juleps didn’t include bourbon or mint - just rum, water + sugar
  8. Around 1800, mint slipped into the equation. Many antebellum Juleps were made with cognac or other French brandies
  9. Juleps and similar libations were called antifogmatics + were often consumed in the morning
  10. President Theodore Roosevelt loved mint juleps and used them as an enticement to get his various cabinet members to play tennis with him! 
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Mint Julep Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ Tsp. Sugar
  • 10 Mint leaves (or more if you love it!)
  • Crushed Ice
  • 2oz. Kentucky Bourbon (Old Forester is the official whiskey of the Kentucky Derby!)
  • Seltzer
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Recipe:

  1. Place the mint leaves in the bottom of a pewter cup (or old-fashioned glass) + top with the sugar
  2. Muddle these together until the leaves begin to break down
  3. Add a splash of seltzer water - this is optional, depending on how strong of a drink you would like!
  4. Fill the glass ¾ full with crushed ice + add the bourbon
  5. Top with another splash of seltzer, stir, + garnish with a sprig of mint!
  6. Serve immediately + enjoy the Derby!
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