It’s that time of year again! It’s time for one of the most iconic and celebrated horse races in the world, the Kentucky Derby. This major sporting event attracts thousands of people to Churchill Downs in Louisville each year, many donning elaborate hats with mint juleps in their hands.
An American Icon
Dating back to 1875, the Kentucky Derby was the brainchild of Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr., grandson of the famous American explorer William Clark. He was inspired by the horse races he had seen during his travels in Europe and brought the idea home with him. He thought Louisville would be the perfect place to establish a world-class horse race because of Kentucky’s esteemed reputation for horse breeding and strategic location. And so, the Kentucky Derby was born.
The very first Kentucky Derby in 1875 was an immediate success, attended by 10,000 people, solidifying its position in Kentucky history and tradition. It has been held every year since, apart from a few years during the two World Wars. Today, it is known as “the most exciting two minutes in sports” and is broadcast to millions around the world.
More than Just a Race
While it’s true that the main attraction is the horse race itself, the Kentucky Derby is also widely known for its rich traditions, like the “My Old Kentucky Home” song, elaborate hats, and its famous signature drink – the mint julep.
- “My Old Kentucky Home,” is played as the horses make their way onto the track as hundreds of thousands sing along. This moving moment is a reminder of Kentucky’s rich history and culture.
- Elaborate hats have become synonymous with the Kentucky Derby, giving many the opportunity to show off their most extravagant headwear. These hats can range from simple to outrageous and are an important part of the event.
- The mint julep has been a staple of the race since its inception. Today, over 120,000 mint juleps are consumed on Derby Day, making it one of the largest annual beverage events in the world.
Bourbon and the Kentucky Derby
The relationship between bourbon and the Kentucky Derby can be traced back to the very first running of the race in 1875, with early Kentucky Derby winners often presented with bottles of bourbon as prizes. During this time, the city of Louisville was home to several distilleries, and bourbon was the most popular spirit in the region. Today, the connection between bourbon and the Kentucky Derby is inseparable. Mint juleps have been the official cocktail of the event since 1938 and it is estimated that 120,000 mint juleps are served each year on Derby Day. However, mint juleps aren’t just the only bourbon offering at the Kentucky Derby. Bourbon balls, bourbon-based sauces, and bourbon-glazed meats are also popular menu items.