Here at KC&J, true to our Kentuckiana upbringing, we love all things derby. Horses, hats, juleps, ruby red roses, bourbon balls, parades, fireworks, stars and red carpets. We love this iconic tradition so much that we wanted to share a bit of this day with all of you, so here is a little tid bit about our favorite Kentuckiana tradition and all the stories and folklore that come with it.
Alternatively referred to as “The Run for the Roses” or “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports,” the Kentucky Derby is a 1.25 mile race for three-year-old thoroughbred horses. The Kentucky Derby draws an average of 150,000 visitors each year, including residents, out-of-towners, celebrities, presidents, and even members of royal families.Kentucky Derby History:The first Kentucky Derby race occurred in 1875. Close to 10,000 people watched as 15 thoroughbred horses ran what was then a 1.5 mile course. In 1876, the length of the race was changed to 1.25 miles. By the early 1900s, owners of winning Kentucky Derby horses started sending their winners to run in the Preakness Stakes in Maryland and the Belmont Stakes in New York. In 1930, sportswriter Charles Hatton coined the term “Triple Crown” in reference to the same horses running the three races consecutively.
Kentucky Derby Lingo:Mint Julep – The Mint Julep is the official drink of the Kentucky Derby. It is an iced drink consisting of bourbon, mint, and a sweet syrup and is traditionally served in a commemorative Kentucky Derby glass.
Burgoo – A thick, meaty stew that is the traditional meal of the Kentucky Derby.
Millionaire’s Row – The premium seating area that houses all of the rich and famous Kentucky Derby guests during the races.
Triple Crown – A series of three races, the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes, that is run annually by a group of thoroughbred horses.
Derby Hat Parade – The derby hat parade takes place inside of Churchill Downs and refers to the sea of stylish and elegant hats worn by women and men alike during the Kentucky Derby.
Kentucky Derby Festival – The annual two-week series of events held in Louisville beginning with Thunder Over Louisville and leading up to the Kentucky Derby.
The Infield – The flat, grassy area inside of the track. The infield is best-known for hosting the largest Kentucky Derby party.
What started with "two minutes" has since evolved into two weeks. What the "Run for the Roses" is to horse racing, Louisville's Derby Festival is to community celebrations. The Festival is one of the premiere events of its kind in the world. It brings fun, excitement, international recognition and a spirit that is unmatched anywhere. Each Spring nearly 1.5 million people gather to celebrate the unique vitality of the Louisville community.
"We are a community organization of 4,000 volunteers who work all year to provide quality entertainment that brings our entire community together," said Festival Chairman and volunteer Doug Hamilton. Produced annually since 1956, the Derby Festival has become a whirlwind of 70 special events.
The Festival blasts off with the Opening Ceremonies - Thunder Over Louisville, the nation's largest annual fireworks extravaganza! The ensuing weeks of excitement and entertainment promise something for everyone. For sports fans there is basketball, volleyball, football, golf and more. For music lovers the concerts are almost non-stop.
With two-thirds of the Festival events free, families can enjoy numerous just-for-kids activities without stretching their pocketbook. Other highlights include a new full and half Marathon and the Great Balloon Race. The Great Steamboat Race pitting Historic register riverboats is the last of its kind in the world.
From country and rock concerts to the elegant Derby Ball, dance and dress range from frivolous to fancy. The Festival includes several formal affairs, as well a casual, foot-stomping good times. More than just entertaining, the Derby Festival generates over $93 million annually for the local economy. Festival events also raise nearly $300,000 for area charities each year.
The Commonwealth's largest single annual event, and one of Louisville's most popular entertainment attractions, the celebration is produced by Kentucky Derby Festival, Inc., a private, not-for-profit civic organization.
The spectacular female fashion often seen at the Kentucky Derby is not solely a product of modern times; rather, opulent feminized dress has played a large role in the history of the Kentucky Derby. What Colonel M. Lewis Clark Jr., (the founding father of the Kentucky Derby), envisioned was a racing environment that would feel comfortable and luxurious, an event that would remind people of European horse racing. For a well-to-do late 19th and early 20th century woman, a day at Churchill Downs, especially on Derby Day was an opportunity to be seen in the latest of fashions. A journalist from a 1901 Louisville Courier-Journal stated, “The seats in the grandstand were filled with gaily dressed women and men. The mass of green, pink, red, yellow, blue, all the colors of the rainbow, blending into one harmonious whole was as beautiful a sight as His Eminence in the lead.”
What would these women have worn? Perhaps surprising to some, local Louisville women would have had the opportunity to purchase dresses and accessories from a talented group of seamstresses. The dresses in the late 19th through the early 20th century would have emphasized a slimmer bustled silhouette than those of years past. The length of these dresses would have assuredly been long, covering the ankles. Due to the fact that the Kentucky Derby is in the spring, silks would have been a good, warm weather choice. Gloves, hat, and perhaps a parasol were also appropriate choices as well.
As societal rules softened in the 20th century, what was deemed appropriate dress transformed. In the 1920s, women at the Derby could be seen wearing a dress or perhaps a more modern suit, complete with a jacket. Some of the1920s jackets were roomy and accommodating, others were fitted. The hat and gloves were still very much in fashion. The 1930s and 1940s followed in the same vein, with option of a dress or suit; in fact, in the 1930s and 1940s the formal suit seemed to be more popular than the dress.
The 1950s ushered in a renewed prosperity to postwar America and clothing styles reflected that. At the Kentucky Derby, one would have most likely viewed well-dressed women in chic suits, with skirts that were either fitted to the body or billowed outward with the assistance of a petticoat. Again, gloves and hats were still quite popular and still a part of a well-dressed woman’s wardrobe. The rules that guided so much of 20th century culture seemed to be thrown out the window in the mid-to late 1960s. Though the Derby was still viewed as a most respectable event and women continued to dress as such, a change had occurred. Now that Millionaires Row had opened, society women wore increasingly louder hats and took pride and enjoyment in selecting one. This trend of bigger, more spectacular hats might have developed due to the fact that while society was loosening its grip on the hat and glove formality, the Kentucky Derby offered women a place to continue the old traditions. Patterns and prints were also brighter, and hemlines defiantly were raised, yielding a much different look than years before.
In the 1970s and 1980s was a return to the longer skirt, while the same casual attitude of the 1960s was still in place. From the 1990s to today, the dress at the Derby is slowing replacing the suit, especially with younger women. While gloves are out of fashion, a hat never is, and they tend to get wilder and more expensive every year. The style of the infield today is defiantly relaxed, with women wearing cool sundresses, cotton skirts, or more frequently shorts. Still, the Kentucky Derby has earned its reputation as a fashion playground.
The infield, a spectator area inside the track, offers general admission prices but little chance of seeing much of the race. Instead, revelers show up in the infield to party with abandon. By contrast, "Millionaires Row" refers to the expensive seats that attract the rich, the famous and the well-connected. Women appear in fine outfits lavishly accessorized with large, elaborate hats. As the horses are paraded before the grandstands, the University of Louisville marching band plays Stephen Foster's "My Old Kentucky Home.
Throughout the years of the Kentucky Derby, the race has had a special appeal to the celebrity set. The rich and famous that mingle among the Derby Day crowd add a unique dimension to the spectacle of the "Run for the Roses."
One of the first celebrity sightings dates to 1877 when famed Polish actress Helena Modjeska attended the third running of the Kentucky Derby. In the 1945 book, Down the Stretch, it was noted that Modjeska was impressed by the Derby but even more charmed by the mint julep to which she was introduced by Churchill Downs founder M. Lewis Clark following the race.
Over the years, a stream of celebrities from film, music, sports, politics and wealth have been drawn to the Derby. On at least one occasion, a celebrity with a more notorious background was the talk of the Derby. The 15th renewal in 1889 brought bank and train robber Frank James to Louisville. The brother of famed outlaw Jesse James and a leader in their outlaw gang, Frank was on hand to watch Spokane take the victory over favored Proctor Knott.
The average race fan is able to follow a horse's progress through the use of the program, television monitors, the number on the saddlecloth and the track announcer's call.
But when horse racing first began in the early 18th century, there were no such things as program numbers, public address systems or closed circuit television. So when King Charles II first assembled race meets on the plains of Hempstead, the dukes and the barons had trouble figuring out which horse was which. So, they adopted racing silks - or colors - to distinguish their jockeys for easier viewing.
During the time of King Charles II, the silks were simple -- red for one duke, black for another duke, orange for one earl, white for another earl, and so on.
The tradition of the silks remains today as jockeys wear the colors of the horse owners, but because there are so many owners, they have become even more colorful. Some of the most famous silks are the devil's red and blue of Calumet Farm, worn by the jockeys of Kentucky Derby winners Citation and Ponder and Allen Paulson's star-spangled red-white-and-blue colors, carried by the champion racehorse Cigar.
The jockeys' room at Churchill Downs houses hundreds of silks which are hung on pegs in the order of each jockey's races for that day.
The Derby is frequently referred to as "The Run for the Roses," because a lush blanket of 554 red roses is awarded to the Kentucky Derby winner each year. The tradition is as a result of New York socialite E. Berry Wall presenting roses to ladies at a post-Derby party in 1883 that was attended by Churchill Downs founder and president, Col. M. Lewis Clark. This gesture is believed to have eventually led Clark to the idea of making the rose the race's official flower. However, it was not until 1896 that any recorded account referred to roses being draped on the Derby winner. The Governor of Kentucky awards the garland and the trophy.