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Dublin: 10 °C Wednesday 24 April, 2019

Everything you need to know about the 139th Kentucky Derby

The run for the roses takes place this evening and we’ve got the inside track.

Jockey Mario Gutierrez with 2012 Kentucky Derby winner I’ll Have Another
Image: Grant Hindsley/AP/Press Association Images


Billed as the ‘fastest two minutes in sport’ the Kentucky Derby will be run for the 139th time on Saturday evening and has become the premier Grade I event on the US racing calendar.

Over the years a lot of mystique has built up around the race, including it’s origins. Legend has it that back in 1779, Edward Smith-Stanley, the 12th Earl of Derby, and Sir Charles Bunbury witnessed the first running of the Epsom Oaks in England. Inspired to start their own event, the two tossed a coin for naming rights and Derby won.

Sadly, the truth is a little less colourful. While traveling in England and France in 1872-1873, 26-year-old M. Lewis Clark, devised the idea of a Louisville Jockey Club for conducting race meets.

For his inaugural race meet, Clark designed three major stakes races, the Kentucky Derby, Kentucky Oaks and Clark Handicap, after the three premier races in England, the Epsom Derby, Epsom Oaks and St. Leger Stakes, respectively.

What the horse and jockey see as the Derby starts.
Image: David Goldman/AP/Press Association Images

The Race

The race has been held over a distance of 1.25 miles (2km) since 1896. It is known as the ‘run for the roses’ because of the blanket of roses draped over the winning horse.

It is contested by three-year-old colts, geldings and fillies.

The Derby represents one-third of the US Triple Crown with the Preakness and Belmont Stakes following later in the year.

First prize in this year’s race is a guaranteed $2 million (€1.5m).

One of the traditions of the Kentucky Derby is the ‘Call to Post’.

YouTube Credit: chollabones

Notable dates

On May 17, 1875, in front of an estimated crowd of 10,000 people, a field of 15 horses contested the first Derby with a colt named Aristides winning.

In 1925, the race was called live on radio for the first time with the inaugural television broadcast taking place in 1952.

In 1968, Dancer’s Image became the first and only winner of the race to be disqualified afterwards. Traces of an anti-inflammatory drug – later legalised – were found in its system and Forward Pass was awarded the race after a lengthy legal battle.

Diane Crump became the first lady jockey to take part in the Derby in 1970 but there has yet to be a female winner of the race.

The fastest time, over the current distance, was set by Secretariat in 1973 at 1.59.40. Only two other horses, Sham (second in 1973) and Monarchos in 2001, have finished the race in under two minutes.

Lines of Battle (left) carries Irish hopes into the race.
Image: Damien Eagers/PA Archive/Press Association Images

This year’s race

Florida Derby winner Orb looks set to go off the slight favourite (7/2) from Verrazano (4/1) on Saturday evening (11pm Irish time). This is likely because, despite being unbeaten, Verrazano did not race as a two-year-old and the last time an unraced juvenile won the Derby was Apollo in 1882.

If you’re looking for longer odds, Revolutionary (10/1), winner of the Louisiana Derby, has the three-time Kentucky Derby winning-jockey Calvin Borel on board. The horse also drew gate three, a post that will allow Borel to hog the rail on his trip around the Churchill Downs track.

Irish hopes this weekend rest with Aidan O’Brien’s Lines of Battle, a 16/1 shot. However, there has never been an Irish winner of the race.

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About the author:

Steve O'Rourke

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