One of my favourite scenes in Once In a Blue Kentucky Moon is set at the inimitable Kentucky Derby. No spoilers here about the story itself (since the scene is pivotal to the whole book), but I thought you might be interested to know a few fun facts about the most famous horserace on the planet.
Though not the richest horserace (that honour goes to The Dubai World Cup with a winner’s purse of $10 million dollars), the Derby is undoubtedly the world’s most famous. Held on the first Saturday of May every year since 1875, it makes its home at the Churchill Downs racetrack with its old-world elegance, in Louisville, Kentucky.
Often referred to as “The Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports”, the Kentucky Derby is the first leg of the American Triple Crown (followed by the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes). Unlike its sister races, the Derby has been running continuously since 1875. To win the coveted Triple Crown, a horse has to win all three races, a feat achieved by only twelve horses in the history of the race!
From a tradition that dates back to 1883, the race has picked up another famous moniker. Of course I’m referring to its nickname “The Run for the Roses”, where the winning horse is draped with a blanket of 554 red roses.
The Derby boasts a purse of $2 million dollars, but that pales in comparison to the total amount bet on the race each year. Did you know that in 2015 in the U.S. alone, one hundred and thirty three million dollars was bet on the race? That’s a heck of a lot of beans! And while we’re talking numbers, the race also attracts some of the most valuable horse flesh in the world. For example, Fusaichi Pegasus was bought for $4 million as a yearling and went on to win the 2000 Kentucky Derby. But was later sold to the global Coolmore Stud Group for, get this – somewhere between $60 and $70 million dollars. Holy moly! I don’t know about you, but numbers like that make my head spin!
On the flip side, no matter how expensive the horse and how amazing the pedigree, at the end of the day, horses are animals and animals are unpredictable. Snaafi Dancer, the first racehorse to sell for over $10 million, never ran a race because he was too slow. He later turned out to have fertility problems as well, so couldn’t breed and was retired to Florida. Doh.
Despite there being other contenders for the most famous horse race in the world, with its extravagant fashion, over the top hats, celebrity attendees, and those refreshing mint juleps, you just can’t beat the Kentucky Derby for its style and panache!