One of the highlights of the Louisville social calendar, the Kentucky Derby is a time-honored tradition known for its mint juleps and extravagant hats. Here are a few things you might not know about “The Run for the Roses.”
The love that derby-goers have for this signature drink is no joke. To meet demand, at least 7,800 liters of bourbon, 475,000 pounds of shaved ice and 2,250 pounds of locally grown mint are brought in for the race. Since the first one was served in 1938, the close association between the race and its official cocktail has been going strong. In the years since, Churchill Downs has introduced a $1,000 version of the drink as well as the world’s largest julep glass.
Why? Because the derby is only open to three-year-old entrants. Though the reasoning behind this restriction is unclear, some believe that it has something to do with entertainment value. While two-year-old horses are still too young to finish with competitive times, by the time the field has reached the age of four, the favorites have become too well-established to make betting on the race worthwhile.
For the first 20 years, the derby was a one-and-a-half-mile race, just like its inspiration, England’s Epsom Derby. However, in 1896 the distance was reduced to its present length as it was thought that 1.5 miles was too far for the horses to run so early in the racing season.
If there’s any image that represents the Kentucky Derby, it’s the winning horse draped in the iconic Garland of Roses. According to derby lore, the longstanding connection to this classic flower began at a post-race party in 1883, where all the women in attendance were given roses. The blooms were such a success that the race’s founder, Col. M. Lewis Clark Jr. was inspired to incorporate them into the next year’s event.
Before the first race was ever run, it was Col. Clark’s vision to make it into an upscale affair that the Louisville elite would attend. To promote the inaugural event, he sent fashionably dressed women out into the community wearing the elaborate styles of the day—including hats. Ever since, the derby has been a showcase for the most recent seasonal designs.
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