Fifteen Things to Know About the Kentucky Derby

Fifteen Things to Know About the Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby was first held in 1875 and ranks as the longest continuously held major sporting event in the United States.

This year will mark the 148th edition of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, which had been held on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs every year since 1946 before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the postponement of the race in 2020 until Sept. 5.

In 2021, the Kentucky Derby returned to its normal place on the calendar as the first jewel of the Triple Crown (after following the Belmont Stakes in 2020) and things seemed to return to normal … until a few days after the race when it was discovered that Medina Spirit had tested positive for a banned substance. He subsequently was disqualified and Mandaloun was elevated to first. The 2021 Kentucky Derby marked the second time in three years that the 3-year-old who crossed the finish line first in the Kentucky Derby was not the official winner after Maximum Security was disqualified for interference in 2019 and Country House elevated to first. 

With so much history surrounding the first jewel of the Triple Crown, there are many interesting facts about the race since Aristides won the inaugural edition in the 19th Century. Let’s explore:

1) The most common color of Kentucky Derby winners is bay with 56, inclduing Mandaloun in 2021, followed by chestnut with 48 winners and brown with 17. Eight Kentucky Derby winners were gray or roan, most recently Giacomo in 2005.

2) Nineteen Kentucky Derby winners’ names have started with the letter S, the most of any letter; the only three letters not represented by a Derby winner are Q, X, and Y.

3) There have been nine undefeated Kentucky Derby winners from 30 undefeated horses who have run in the race since 1915. Triple Crown winner Justify in 2018 is the most recent. This year, Runhappy Santa Anita Derby winner Taiba has a chance to boost that number to 10 as one of the expected favorites.

4) Bill Shoemaker was 54 years old when he won the Kentucky Derby in 1986 aboard Ferdinand, the oldest jockey to win run for the roses.

5) The record for the youngest winning Kentucky Derby jockey is 15 years old, by Alonzo Clayton in 1892 aboard Azra and James “Soup” Perkins in 1895 with Halma.

6) The Florida Derby has produced 24 Kentucky Derby winners over the years to rank as the most productive prep race on the Derby trail. The Blue Grass Stakes and Champagne Stakes rank second with 23.

7) The stretch at Churchill Downs is 1,234 feet long, and the late Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray once wrote, “The homestretch is 1,234 feet of heartbreak. Trainers swear it’s uphill.”

8) There have been 23 editions of the Kentucky Derby in which the winner led from start to finish for a “wire-to-wire” victory, most recently Authentic in 2020.

9) Historic Calumet Farm in Lexington is the leading owner by Kentucky Derby winners with eight and the leading breeder of Kentucky Derby winners with nine. Calumet owned and bred 1941 Triple Crown winner Whirlaway and 1948 Triple Crown winner Citation.

10) Favorites have won 56 of the previous 147 editions of the Kentucky Derby, according to the official media guide, including six of the last nine editions.

11) Count Fleet in 1943 and Citation in 1948 rate as the most overwhelming favorites to win the Kentucky Derby, both prevailing at 2-5 odds and returning $2.80 for a $2 bet.

12) The largest margin of victory in the Kentucky Derby is eight lengths and it was accomplished four times in Derby history: Old Rosebud in 1914, Johnstown in 1939, Whirlaway in 1941, and Assault in 1946. The final two went on to sweep the Triple Crown.

13) The Kentucky Derby has been decided by a winning margin of a neck or less on 25 occasions, so there is a very good chance for a thrilling finish.

14) The 2005 Kentucky Derby produced the record payout for the exacta, trifecta, and superfecta thanks to several massive longshots in the top four, led by 50.30-1 winner Giacomo. Runner-up Closing Argument was even more overlooked at 71.60-1 odds and fourth-place finisher Don’t Get Mad was 29.20-1. The only well-supported runner to hit the board was third-place finisher Afleet Alex as the 9-2 second betting choice. As a result, the $2 exacta paid $9,814.80, the $2 trifecta returned a whopping $133,134.80, and the $1 superfecta paid a life-changing $864,253.

15) The record for money wagered Kentucky Derby day came in 2019 when $250,900,257 was wagered on the card of races at Churchill Downs.