Save the Date!
The 150th Kentucky Derby only comes around once. Don’t miss out on the Derby magic! As the exclusive public tour provider of Churchill Downs, Kentucky Derby Museum offers once-in-a-lifetime tours of the track during Derby season.
One hundred and fifty years have passed since the Thoroughbreds of the inaugural Kentucky Derby sprang from the starting gate to race beneath the iconic Twin Spires of Churchill Downs. But the story of the greatest two minutes in sports is more than the pageantry of the horses and thrill of the people who love and celebrate the event. Through a personal tour of 75 objects from the Museum, The History of the Kentucky Derby in 75 Objects sets out to recover the accurate history of America's longest continuously held sporting event and establish a balance between well-known narratives and those that are less widely shared.
The first running of the Kentucky Derby in 1875 has its roots in the Epsom Derby. In 1873, Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark traveled abroad to study how horseracing was done, and was inspired after attending the Epsom Derby. Upon his return home, he founded the Louisville Jockey Club where the first Kentucky Derby was run on May 17, 1875. Clark brought with him the Epsom tradition of going to the races to see and be seen, modern track rules and regulations, new ways of wagering, and a beautiful clubhouse and grandstand.
Today, the Kentucky Derby is the longest continual running sporting event in the United States. In 2024, we will be celebrating its 150th anniversary.
The Derby Day, 1856–58, depicting the Epsom Derby in England. Oil on canvas. Artist: William Powell Frith. Tate Britain Collection.
Churchill Downs Original Grandstand, Louisville Jockey Club, 1892. © R. G. Potter Collection, University of Louisville Photographic Archives
Spectators in the Grandstand on Kentucky Derby Day, 1895, the year the Twin Spires made their debut. ©Churchill Downs Racetrack
Churchill Downs Original Clubhouse, 1902. ©Churchill Downs Racetrack
Edward Smith-Stanley, the 12th Earl of Derby, Gainsborough DuPont, c.1760-1790, oil on canvas. Collection of Kentucky Derby Museum.
Edward Richard William Stanley, 19th Earl of Derby, photographed with the replica Kentucky Derby Trophy at the 2023 Epsom Derby.
Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr. ©Churchill Downs Racetrack
Aristides, Winner of 1875 Kentucky Derby. ©Churchill Downs Racetrack
Portrait of Oliver Lewis, jockey aboard Aristides. ©Churchill Downs Racetrack
Queen Elizabeth II attended the 2007 Kentucky Derby. The crowds cheered her when she stepped out to wave. ©Courier-Journal
The 17th Earl of Derby at the Kentucky Derby, 1930. ©Churchill Downs Racetrack
A ribbon (left) celebrating the ties between the Kentucky Derby and the Epsom Derby, modeled after an original Louisville Jockey Club Member ribbon (right)
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.
Matt Winn was president at Churchill Downs from 1902 to 1949. He is credited with making the Kentucky Derby what it is today.
The signature drink of the Kentucky Derby. Churchill Downs reports that 120,000 Mint Juleps are served every Derby Day.
Ladies at Churchill Downs toasting their mint juleps, Kentucky Derby week, 2023.
The garland of 400 roses dates to 1896 and includes a single rose pointing upward in the center of the garland, symbolizing the struggle and heart necessary to reach the Derby Winner's Circle.
Steve Buttleman in the Winner's Circle playing Call to Post. The Call to Post has been played at racetracks since, at least, the 1860s at the Saratoga meet.
Winner's Circle for the Kentucky Derby Winner.
Kentucky Derby winner Northern Dancer (1964) sired three Epsom Derby winners, including Nikinsky (1970), The Minstrel (1977), and Secreto (1984). ©Churchill Downs Racetrack
Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand (1986) sired by Epsom Derby winner Nijinsky (1970). ©Churchill Downs Racetrack
Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown winner Whirlaway (1941) sired by Epsom Derby winner Blenheim II (1930). ©Churchill Downs Racetrack
Kentucky Derby winner Jet Pilot (1947) sired Epsom Derby winner Blenheim II (1930). ©Churchill Downs Racetrack
Kentucky Derby winner Pensive (1944) was sired by Epsom Derby winner Hyperion (1933). ©Churchill Downs Racetrack