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Today: July 31, 2016

The First Kentucky Derby – Learn All the Facts

The 138th running of the Kentucky Derby is nothing short of exciting facts and memorable events that have gathered around the sport since its inauguration in 1875. – April 19, 2012 5:08 am – Kentucky Derby season is officially here as the first Saturday in May 2012 is fast approaching, and since the 2012 running of the Run for the Roses will be the 138th straight year in which the race has been run, there is certainly no shortage of Kentucky Derby facts and interesting tidbits of information surrounding this race. In an attempt to satisfy your intense curiosity that grips racing fans like you around this time every year about the first ever Kentucky Derby (don’t worry, it happens to us as well), we thought we’d share with you an assortment of aforementioned facts with you here.

The Kentucky Derby was first run on May 17, 1875. You may be surprised to learn that, obviously, the inaugural Derby was NOT run on the first Saturday in May (that tradition came later).  In addition to that, the familiar distance of 1 ¼ miles, or 10 furlongs, was not part of the first Kentucky Derby. It was run at the same distance that the current Belmont Stakes is run at, which is a full 12 furlongs, or mile and a half.  The current distance of a mile and a quarter was not adopted until 1896, and it has remained the same ever since.

A connection to Civil War glory links the inaugural Run for the Roses (that nickname is, in and of itself, anachronistic, as a bouquet of red roses was not introduced to the winner of the race until 1896, so the first 21 times the Run for the Roses took place it was NOT The Run for the Roses!!!) with the bloody conflict that had only concluded ten years earlier (in April 1865). Even though he wasn’t actually in attendance, the President of the United States on the day of the first Kentucky Derby was none other than Ulysses S. Grant (the “S” did not stand for anything; it was given to him by mistake!).  Grant, of course, was a four-star general, the Commander of the entire Union Army during the last two-and-a-half years of the bloodiest conflict in the history of the United States, and was the General that took Robert E. Lee’s surrender of the Confederate Army at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865, only five days before President Abraham Lincoln, widely believed by historians to be the greatest of all American Presidents, was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theater.

The name of the horse that won the first Kentucky Derby was Aristides, who also won the Withers Stakes and the Jerome Handicap that year. He was a chestnut colt that finished his abbreviated career with 9 wins, 5 places, and 1 show in 21 starts in an age when horses raced far more frequently, and over greater distances, than they do now. The field for the 138th Kentucky Derby (Saturday, May 5, 2012, Post Time 6:24 PM) will be the maximum number of 20 thoroughbred race horses, but when Aristides kicked started history in the first Kentucky Derby, he won in a field of 15 horses, including himself. An African American trainer, Ansel Williamson, and an African American jockey, Oliver Lewis, combined to lead the fine Aristides to victory at Churchill Downs.

Hal McGrath was the owner of two horses that were entered in the race, Aristides and Chesapeake. McGrath only entered Aristides in the Derby as a rabbit, expected to set a fast pace early on in the race, which would then set up the second half of the race for Chesapeake to win. During the race, as Aristides was out in front of the field and increasing his lead, jockey Lewis looked to McGrath because he knew he wasn’t supposed to win the race. But McGrath saw that Chesapeake was faltering, not moving up, and so McGrath urged Lewis to keep pushing Aristides to win. He was challenged in the stretch, but held on to win by a length. So the first Kentucky Derby winner was not even SUPPOSED to win!
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