The Kentucky Derby: How the Run for the Roses Became America's Premier Sporting Event

The Kentucky Derby: How the Run for the Roses Became America's Premier Sporting Event

The Kentucky Derby: How the Run for the Roses Became America's Premier Sporting Event

The Kentucky Derby: How the Run for the Roses Became America's Premier Sporting Event

Excerpt

What is it about the Kentucky Derby? Why does it thrill people who will not see another horse race all year, who otherwise pay no attention to an anachronistic sport whose heyday appears to be long past? Each year a quarter million people file into Churchill Downs in Louisville on Derby weekend, and hundreds of thousands more attend festivities around the city in the two weeks leading up to the big race. The Kentucky Derby is not the fastest, longest, or most monetarily valuable horse race in the United States. It was not the first race—or even the first derby—to be run in America. Each year it is only one of dozens of derbies contested throughout the world. Why, then, does the cultural phenomenon that is the Kentucky Derby annually capture the attention of millions, while most American racetracks struggle to survive in the face of steady declines in the popularity of horse racing?

The term derby generally signifies a race for three-year-old horses, and its origins go back to eighteenth-century England and Edward Stanley, twelfth Earl of Derby, who cofounded the Derby Stakes in 1780. Thus, it is not the derby element of the Kentucky Derby that makes the event unique; rather, the traditions and imagery associated with the Kentuckian roots of the event are responsible for its distinct flavor. These include, most . . .

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