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A Complete Guide to The Kentucky Derby

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve most likely heard the names Kentucky Derby and Churchill Downs before.  The Kentucky Derby is the most well-known horse race in The United States. The race, which is held on the first Saturday in May each year, is the 1st race of the famed Triple Crown series. If a horse wins at The Kentucky Derby, the next test is just two weeks later at Pimlico Race Course for The Preakness Stakes. Should a horse win both The Kentucky Derby and The Preakness Stakes, they must then win at The Belmont Stakes to complete their quest for The Triple Crown.

The Kentucky Derby is the youngest of the Triple Crown races having been first run in 1875. However, the race still has a long history of over 142 years under its belt. Much has changed over the years including traditions and track length, but The Kentucky Derby continues to play an important role in US horse racing. As the 1st race of the famed Triple Crown series, dreams can be made or broken for a horse in less than two minutes.

The derby is unique among the Triple Crown races due to the number of horses that run it. On average, a total of 20 horses run at Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby. This is more than double the average field size of 8 horses across most other horse races.

The race is nicknamed “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports.” The Kentucky Derby earned this nickname due to the excitement surrounding the race and the rough finish time annually of the winning horse. Each year, an average of 155,000 people comes together at Churchill Downs to watch The Kentucky Derby race.

Quick Facts

Year First Run1875
Name of TrackChurchill Downs
Location of TrackLouisville, Kentucky (United States)
Current Purse$2,000,000
Qualification3-year-old horses
Length of Track1.25 miles
Surface of TrackDirt
Track DirectionLeft handed
Race Record01:59.4 (Secretariat in 1973)

How to Watch

Over the years, The Kentucky Derby has aired on a mix of different broadcast networks. Through 2025, you’ll be able to catch The Kentucky Derby Action on NBC. NBC has had a contract with Churchill Downs to air the race since 2001. Once 2025 hits, we’ll update this page to reflect where you can watch the race from there forward. Before 2001, The Kentucky Derby aired on ABC and CBS.

Race Traditions

The Kentucky Derby has a ton of traditions with many of them dating back from a long time ago. For The Kentucky Derby, there are key traditions surrounding cocktails, flowers, hats, songs, and food. Over time, some of these traditions have changed slightly. Below, we’ll cover the current status for each of these traditions.

If you’ve ever been to a Kentucky Derby party, you’ve probably enjoyed a Mint Julep. This refreshing cocktail is the traditional beverage of The Kentucky Derby. A Mint Julep consists of a mix of bourbon, sugar syrup, and mint on ice. The Mint Julep has been served at Churchill Downs since 1938. Every year, over 120,000 Mint Juleps are served over the Kentucky Derby event weekend.

If you’re a foodie, The Kentucky Derby also has you covered. The main dish served at Churchill Downs is called Burgoo. Burgoo is a spicy and thick stew that includes chicken, beef, pork, chicken, and vegetables and it is often served with cornbread. Burgoo is a very popular dish in the state of Kentucky.

Like some of the other major races, The Kentucky Derby has an official flower. The official flower of the Kentucky Derby is the red rose. The winning horse of The Kentucky Derby is draped in a blanket consisting of over 550 red roses. This tradition dates all the way back to 1883.  Because of this tradition, The Kentucky Derby is often called “The Run for the Roses.”

Another tradition that you’re probably familiar with if you’ve ever attended a Kentucky Derby party would be hats for women. We’re not just talking any old hats here. The Kentucky Derby is famous for wearing very large and oftentimes elaborate hats. In general, people at The Kentucky Derby tend to dress up. You’ll find men in suits and pants with the most popular fabric choice being seersucker. For women, they tend to wear nice dresses that match their large hat of choice.

The official song of The Kentucky Derby is “My Old Kentucky Home.” This song was written by Stephen Foster. The use of this song at The Kentucky Derby is believed to date back to 1921. It is now a tradition that the crowd of over 160,000 people in attendance at The Kentucky Derby sings this song as the horses step onto the track for the parade.

Click here to learn more about the history of traditions at The Kentucky Derby.

Race History

In 1872, a man named Meriwether Lewis Clark got the ball rolling on what would eventually become The Kentucky Derby. Clark, who was the grandson of William Clark of Lewis and Clark fame, traveled to Europe that year and attended the Epsom Derby in England. While in England, Meriwether Lewis Clark gained inspiration and wanted to help bring horse racing to The United States.

Upon his return from Europe, Clark was gifted land from his uncle’s John and Henry Churchill. On May 17th, 1875, the racetrack was opened and the first ever Kentucky Derby was held. There were over 10,000 spectators in attendance at the first ever Kentucky Derby. Eight years later in 1883, the racetrack would officially be named Churchill Downs after the pair of men that donated the land for the racetrack.

Churchill Downs continued to see increased crowds year after year. In 1894, a 285-foot grandstand was constructed in an effort to make more room for the large crowds. One year later, the famous twin spires of Churchill Downs were constructed. The twin spires are now one of the most famous visuals of The Kentucky Derby and Churchill Downs.

In 1896, the length of the race was changed from the original 1.5 miles to 1.25 miles. The change was made because it was thought that the 1.5-mile length was too long for three-year-old horses that early in the season. The Kentucky Derby has remained at that same distance now for the past 121 years.

Over time, more things changed as the times changed. The Kentucky Derby has stood the test of time by continuing through challenging times such as the World Wars and The Great Depression. Through it all, fans still wanted to see The Kentucky Derby run.

Click here to learn more about the history of The Kentucky Derby.

Past Winners

Over the last 142 years, The Kentucky Derby has seen the rise and fall of many horses. As the first jewel of The Triple Crown, it is an important proving ground for any horse. Should a horse win The Kentucky Derby, it must then win at The Preakness and The Belmont Stakes if it wants to keep The Triple Crown dream alive.

We built the chart below with tons of data surrounding the past winners. In this chart, you’ll find the winning horse and other data such as the trainer and owner of the winning horse. We’ve also built in the Equalizer formula discussed above to help you match things up over the years. Every year, we’ll update this chart so that it reflects the most up to date winner information.

As you’ll see below, the track length for The Kentucky Derby has varied over time. For the first 21 years, the race was run at a 1.5-mile length. Then, in 1896, the track length was moved to 1.25 miles which is where the course length at Churchill Downs still stands today.

2018Justify*Mike E. SmithBob BaffertChina Horse Club, & others1 ¼-miles02:04.2
2017Always DreamingJohn VelazquezTodd PletcherMeB Racing, Brooklyn Boyz, & others1 ¼-miles02:03.6
2016NyquistMario GutierrezDoug O’NeillJ. Paul Reddam1 ¼-miles02:01.3
2015American Pharoah*Victor EspinozaBob BaffertZayat Stables, LLC1 ¼-miles02:03.0
2014California ChromeVictor EspinozaArt ShermanSteve Coburn & Perry Martin1 ¼-miles02:03.7
2013OrbJoel RosarioClaude McGaughey IIIStuart S. Janney III & Phipps Stable1 ¼-miles02:02.9
2012I’ll Have AnotherMario GutierrezDoug O’NeillJ. Paul Reddam1 ¼-miles02:01.8
2011Animal KingdomJohn VelazquezH. Graham MotionTeam Valor International1 ¼-miles02:02.0
2010Super SaverCalvin BorelTodd PletcherWinStar Farm1 ¼-miles02:04.5
2009Mine That BirdCalvin BorelBennie L. Woolley, Jr.Double Eagle Ranch et al.1 ¼-miles02:02.7
2008Big BrownKent DesormeauxRichard E. Dutrow, Jr.IEAH Stables/P. Pompa1 ¼-miles02:01.8
2007Street SenseCalvin BorelCarl NafzgerJames B. Tafel1 ¼-miles02:02.2
2006BarbaroEdgar PradoMichael R. MatzLael Stables1 ¼-miles02:01.4
2005GiacomoMike E. SmithJohn ShirreffsJerry & Ann Moss1 ¼-miles02:02.8
2004Smarty JonesStewart ElliottJohn ServisSomeday Farm1 ¼-miles02:04.1
2003Funny CideJosé A. SantosBarclay TaggSackatoga Stable1 ¼-miles02:01.2
2002War EmblemVictor EspinozaBob BaffertThoroughbred Corp.1 ¼-miles02:01.1
2001MonarchosJorge F. ChavezJohn T. Ward, Jr.John C. Oxley1 ¼-miles02:00.0
2000Fusaichi PegasusKent DesormeauxNeil DrysdaleFusao Sekiguchi1 ¼-miles02:01.0
1999CharismaticChris AntleyD. Wayne LukasBob & Beverly Lewis1 ¼-miles02:03.2
1998Real QuietKent DesormeauxBob BaffertMichael E. Pegram1 ¼-miles02:02.2
1997Silver CharmGary StevensBob BaffertBob & Beverly Lewis1 ¼-miles02:02.4
1996GrindstoneJerry BaileyD. Wayne LukasOverbrook Farm1 ¼-miles02:01.0
1995Thunder GulchGary StevensD. Wayne LukasMichael Tabor1 ¼-miles02:01.2
1994Go for GinChris McCarronNick ZitoWilliam J. Condren & Joseph M. Cornacchia1 ¼-miles02:03.6
1993Sea HeroJerry BaileyMacKenzie MillerRokeby Stables1 ¼-miles02:02.4
1992Lil E. TeePat DayLynn S. WhitingW. Cal Partee1 ¼-miles02:03.0
1991Strike the GoldChris AntleyNick ZitoBCC Stable1 ¼-miles02:03.0
1990UnbridledCraig PerretCarl NafzgerFrances A. Genter1 ¼-miles02:02.0
1989Sunday SilencePat ValenzuelaCharlie WhittinghamH-G-W Partners1 ¼-miles02:05.0
1988Winning ColorsGary StevensD. Wayne LukasEugene V. Klein1 ¼-miles02:02.2
1987AlyshebaChris McCarronJack Van BergD. & P. Scharbauer1 ¼-miles02:03.4
1986FerdinandBill ShoemakerCharlie WhittinghamElizabeth A. Keck1 ¼-miles02:02.8
1985Spend A BuckAngel Cordero, Jr.Cam GambolatiDennis Diaz1 ¼-miles02:00.2
1984SwaleLaffit Pincay, Jr.Woody StephensClaiborne Farm1 ¼-miles02:02.4
1983Sunny’s HaloEddie DelahoussayeDavid C. Cross, Jr.D. J. Foster Stable1 ¼-miles02:02.2
1982Gato Del SolEddie DelahoussayeEdwin J. GregsonHancock&Peters1 ¼-miles02:02.4
1981Pleasant ColonyJorge VelasquezJohn P. CampoBuckland Farm1 ¼-miles02:02.0
1980Genuine RiskJacinto VasquezLeRoy JolleyDiana M. Firestone1 ¼-miles02:02.0
1979Spectacular BidRonnie FranklinBud DelpHawksworth Farm1 ¼-miles02:02.4
1978Affirmed*Steve CauthenLaz BarreraHarbor View Farm1 ¼-miles02:01.2
1977Seattle Slew*Jean CruguetWilliam H. Turner, Jr.Karen L. Taylor1 ¼-miles02:02.2
1976Bold ForbesAngel Cordero, Jr.Laz BarreraE. Rodriguez Tizol1 ¼-miles02:01.6
1975Foolish PleasureJacinto VasquezLeRoy JolleyJohn L. Greer1 ¼-miles02:02.0
1974CannonadeAngel Cordero, Jr.Woody StephensJohn M. Olin1 ¼-miles02:04.0
1973Secretariat*Ron TurcotteLucien LaurinMeadow Stable1 ¼-miles01:59.4
1972Riva RidgeRon TurcotteLucien LaurinMeadow Stud1 ¼-miles02:01.8
1971Canonero IIGustavo AvilaJuan AriasEdgar Caibett1 ¼-miles02:03.2
1970Dust CommanderMike ManganelloDon CombsRobert E. Lehmann1 ¼-miles02:03.4
1969Majestic PrinceBill HartackJohnny LongdenFrank M. McMahon1 ¼-miles02:01.8
1968Forward PassIsmael ValenzuelaHenry ForrestCalumet Farm1 ¼-miles02:02.2
1967Proud ClarionBobby UsseryLoyd Gentry, Jr.Darby Dan Farm1 ¼-miles02:00.6
1966Kauai KingDon BrumfieldHenry ForrestFord Stable1 ¼-miles02:02.0
1965Lucky DebonairBill ShoemakerFrank CatroneAda L. Rice1 ¼-miles02:01.2
1964Northern DancerBill HartackHoratio LuroWindfields Farm1 ¼-miles02:00.0
1963ChateaugayBraulio BaezaJames P. ConwayDarby Dan Farm1 ¼-miles02:01.8
1962DecidedlyBill HartackHoratio LuroEl Peco Ranch1 ¼-miles02:00.4
1961Carry BackJohnny SellersJack A. PriceKatherine Price1 ¼-miles02:04.0
1960Venetian WayBill HartackVictor J. SovinskiSunny Blue Farm1 ¼-miles02:02.4
1959Tomy LeeBill ShoemakerFrank E. ChildsFred & Juliette Turner1 ¼-miles02:02.2
1958Tim TamIsmael ValenzuelaJimmy JonesCalumet Farm1 ¼-miles02:05.0
1957Iron LiegeBill HartackJimmy JonesCalumet Farm1 ¼-miles02:02.2
1956NeedlesDavid ErbHugh L. FontaineD & H Stable1 ¼-miles02:03.4
1955SwapsBill ShoemakerMesh TenneyRex C. Ellsworth1 ¼-miles02:01.8
1954DetermineRaymond YorkWilliam MolterAndrew J. Crevolin1 ¼-miles02:03.0
1953Dark StarHenry E. MorenoEddie HaywardCain Hoy Stable1 ¼-miles02:02.0
1952Hill GailEddie ArcaroBen A. JonesCalumet Farm1 ¼-miles02:01.6
1951Count TurfConn McCrearySol RutchickJack J. Amiel1 ¼-miles02:02.6
1950MiddlegroundWilliam BolandMax HirschKing Ranch1 ¼-miles02:01.6
1949PonderSteve BrooksBen A. JonesCalumet Farm1 ¼-miles02:04.2
1948Citation*Eddie ArcaroBen A. JonesCalumet Farm1 ¼-miles02:05.4
1947Jet PilotEric GuerinTom SmithMaine Chance Farm1 ¼-miles02:06.8
1946Assault*Warren MehrtensMax HirschKing Ranch1 ¼-miles02:06.6
1945Hoop Jr.Eddie ArcaroIvan H. ParkeFred W. Hooper1 ¼-miles02:07.0
1944PensiveConn McCrearyBen A. JonesCalumet Farm1 ¼-miles02:04.2
1943Count Fleet*Johnny LongdenDon CameronFannie Hertz1 ¼-miles02:04.0
1942Shut OutWayne D. WrightJohn M. Gaver, Sr.Greentree Stable1 ¼-miles02:04.4
1941Whirlaway*Eddie ArcaroBen A. JonesCalumet Farm1 ¼-miles02:01.4
1940GallahadionCarroll BiermanRoy WaldronMilky Way Farm1 ¼-miles02:05.0
1939JohnstownJames StoutJim FitzsimmonsBelair Stud1 ¼-miles02:03.4
1938LawrinEddie ArcaroBen A. JonesHerbert M. Woolf1 ¼-miles02:04.8
1937War Admiral*Charley KurtsingerGeorge ConwayGlen Riddle Farm1 ¼-miles02:03.2
1936Bold VentureIra HanfordMax HirschMorton L. Schwartz1 ¼-miles02:03.6
1935Omaha*Willie SaundersJim FitzsimmonsBelair Stud1 ¼-miles02:05.0
1934CavalcadeMack GarnerBob SmithBrookmeade Stable1 ¼-miles02:04.0
1933Brokers TipDon MeadeHerbert J. ThompsonEdward R. Bradley1 ¼-miles02:06.8
1932Burgoo KingEugene JamesHerbert J. ThompsonEdward R. Bradley1 ¼-miles02:05.2
1931Twenty GrandCharley KurtsingerJames G. Rowe, Jr.Greentree Stable1 ¼-miles02:01.8
1930Gallant Fox*Earl SandeJim FitzsimmonsBelair Stud1 ¼-miles02:07.6
1929Clyde Van DusenLinus McAteeClyde Van DusenHerbert P. Gardner1 ¼-miles02:10.8
1928Reigh CountChick LangBert S. MichellFannie Hertz1 ¼-miles02:10.4
1927WhiskeryLinus McAteeFred HopkinsHarry P. Whitney1 ¼-miles02:06.0
1926Bubbling OverAlbert JohnsonHerbert J. ThompsonEdward R. Bradley1 ¼-miles02:03.8
1925Flying EbonyEarl SandeWilliam B. DukeGifford A. Cochran1 ¼-miles02:07.6
1924Black GoldJ. D. MooneyHanley WebbRosa M. Hoots1 ¼-miles02:05.2
1923ZevEarl SandeDavid J. LearyRancocas Stable1 ¼-miles02:05.4
1922MorvichAlbert JohnsonFred BurlewBenjamin Block1 ¼-miles02:04.6
1921Behave YourselfCharles ThompsonHerbert J. ThompsonEdward R. Bradley1 ¼-miles02:04.2
1920Paul JonesTed RiceBilly GarthRal Parr1 ¼-miles02:09.0
1919Sir Barton*Johnny LoftusH. Guy BedwellJ. K. L. Ross1 ¼-miles02:09.8
1918ExterminatorWillie KnappHenry McDanielWillis Sharpe Kilmer1 ¼-miles02:10.8
1917Omar KhayyamCharles BorelCharles T. PattersonBillings & Johnson1 ¼-miles02:04.6
1916George SmithJohnny LoftusHollie HughesJohn Sanford1 ¼-miles02:04.0
1915RegretJoe NotterJames G. Rowe, Sr.Harry P. Whitney1 ¼-miles02:05.4
1914Old RosebudJohn McCabeFrank D. WeirHamilton C. Applegate1 ¼-miles02:03.4
1913DonerailRoscoe GooseThomas P. HayesThomas P. Hayes1 ¼-miles02:04.8
1912WorthCarroll H. ShillingFrank M. TaylorHenry C. Hallenbeck1 ¼-miles02:09.4
1911MeridianGeorge ArchibaldAlbert EwingRichard F. Carman1 ¼-miles02:05.0
1910DonauFrederick HerbertGeorge HamWilliam Gerst1 ¼-miles02:06.4
1909WintergreenVincent PowersCharles MackJerome B. Respess1 ¼-miles02:08.2
1908Stone StreetArthur PickensJ. W. HallC. E. & J. W. Hamilton1 ¼-miles02:15.2
1907Pink StarAndy MinderW. H. FizerJ. Hal Woodford1 ¼-miles02:12.6
1906Sir HuonRoscoe TroxlerPete CoyneBashford Manor Stable1 ¼-miles02:08.8
1905AgileJack MartinRobert TuckerSamuel S. Brown1 ¼-miles02:10.8
1904ElwoodShorty PriorCharles E. DurnellMrs. C. E. Durnell1 ¼-miles02:08.5
1903Judge HimesHal BookerJohn P. MayberryCharles R. Ellison1 ¼-miles02:09.0
1902Alan-a-DaleJimmy WinkfieldThomas C. McDowellThomas C. McDowell1 ¼-miles02:08.8
1901His EminenceJimmy WinkfieldFrank B. Van MeterFrank B. Van Meter1 ¼-miles02:07.8
1900Lieut. GibsonJimmy BolandCharles HughesCharles H. Smith1 ¼-miles02:06.2
1899ManuelFred TaralRobert J. WaldenA. H.&D. H. Morris1 ¼-miles02:12.0
1898PlauditWillie SimmsJohn E. MaddenJohn E. Madden1 ¼-miles02:09.0
1897Typhoon IIButtons GarnerJ. C. CahnJ. C. Cahn1 ¼-miles02:12.5
1896Ben BrushWillie SimmsHardy Campbell, Jr.Mike F. Dwyer1 ¼-miles02:07.8
1895HalmaSoup PerkinsByron McClellandByron McClelland1 ½-miles02:37.5
1894ChantFrank GoodaleH. Eugene LeighLeigh& Rose1 ½-miles02:41.0
1893LookoutEddie KunzeWilliam McDanielCushing & Orth1 ½-miles02:39.3
1892AzraAlonzo ClaytonJohn H. MorrisBashford Manor Stable1 ½-miles02:41.5
1891KingmanIsaac MurphyDud AllenJacobin Stable1 ½-miles02:52.3
1890RileyIsaac MurphyEdward CorriganEdward Corrigan1 ½-miles02:45.0
1889SpokaneThomas KileyJohn RodegapNoah Armstrong1 ½-miles02:34.5
1888Macbeth IIGeorge CovingtonJohn CampbellChicago Stable1 ½-miles02:38.0
1887MontroseIsaac LewisJohn McGintyLabold Brothers1 ½-miles02:39.3
1886Ben AliPaul DuffyJim MurphyJ. B. A. Haggin1 ½-miles02:36.5
1885Joe CottonErskine HendersonAbe PerryJames T. Williams1 ½-miles02:37.3
1884BuchananIsaac MurphyWilliam BirdWilliam Cottrill1 ½-miles02:40.3
1883LeonatusBilly DonohueRaleigh ColstonChinn & Morgan1 ½-miles02:43.0
1882ApolloBabe HurdGreen B. MorrisMorris & Patton1 ½-miles02:40.0
1881HindooJim McLaughlinJames G. Rowe, Sr.Dwyer Bros. Stable1 ½-miles02:40.0
1880FonsoGeorge LewisTice HutsellJ. Snell Shawhan1 ½-miles02:37.5
1879Lord MurphyCharlie ShauerGeorge RiceDarden & Co1 ½-miles02:37.0
1878Day StarJimmy CarterLee PaulT. J. Nichols1 ½-miles02:37.3
1877Baden-BadenBilly WalkerEdward D. BrownDaniel Swigert1 ½-miles02:38.0
1876VagrantBobby SwimJames WilliamsWilliam Astor, Jr.1 ½-miles02:38.3
1875AristidesOliver LewisAnsel WilliamsonHal P. McGrath1 ½-miles02:37.7
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