On May 4, 2019, the iconic Derby gold cup was awarded in the Winner’s Circle and claimed by the winner of the 145th Run for the Roses. The solid 14-karat-gold beauty has remained almost exactly the same for almost a century, and it is the only solid gold trophy awarded in the United States.
The 1925 gold cup, presented to the connections of Flying Ebony. It is the oldest Derby trophy in existence. Courtesy of the Kentucky Derby Museum Permanent Collection.
Prior to 1924 when this design was introduced, there was no consistent trophy presented to winners of the Kentucky Derby. Designs varied wildly, and a number of them awarded prior to the turn of the 20th century have never been tracked down. So whose idea was it to create a standard design?
Design for an early trophy awarded at Churchill Downs. The "Louisville Cup" was solid sterling silver and weighed over 270 oz. Courtesy of the Kentucky Derby Museum Permanent Collection.
Well, you probably knew the answer: Matt Winn. Playfully called “Mr. Derby” for his tireless promotion and innovation that contributed to the event we know today, Winn had a hand in a number of iconic Derby traditions, including the manufacture of the souvenir mint julep glass and the presentation of a garland of roses in the Winner’s Circle. His idea to create a recognizable trophy for the popular race was an example of his marketing genius, and the growing frenzy to capture the Kentucky Derby picked up speed when there was a shiny, new incentive added to the purse.
Winn making the trophy presentation to the connections of 1941 Kentucky Derby winner, Whirlaway. Photo courtesy of Churchill Downs Racetrack.
Winn commissioned Louisville jeweler Lemon & Sons who worked with artist George Graff to come up with the concept. Graff’s family generously donated his original sketches to the Museum, and looking at them, you can see his design process, slowly forming the classic ornamentation we know and recognize today.
One of George Graff's 1920s sketches for what would be used to create the iconic Derby trophy. Courtesy of the Kentucky Derby Museum Permanent Collection.
Once the design had been finalized, Redlich & Company created the first trophy and it was presented in 1924 to Rosa Hoots, owner of that year’s winner Black Gold. Since 1924, the cup has had very minor alterations, most notably changing the direction of the horseshoe to satisfy the superstition that if the horseshoe is upside down, “your luck runs out!”
A final watercolor sketch of the gold cup by George Graff. Courtesy of the Kentucky Derby Museum Permanent Collection.
The trophy is now made with pride by Susanne Blackinton-Juaire and Bill Juaire of S.R. Blackinton. They still use the original dies and molds created way back in 1924.
Trainer D. Wayne Lukas holding a gold cup in the Winner's Circle for the forth time in 1999. Photo courtesy of Churchill Downs Racetrack.