Saturday, May 1, 2010

War of the Roses

Magnet # 231:  Kentucky Horse

Material:  Resin

Purchased By:  Me

All eyes are on Louisville today, for the 136th annual Kentucky Derby, which is held on the first Saturday of May.  Only three year-old horses are eligible to run in this legendary race, and Lookin at Lucky is the favorite to win.  Unfortunately, the previous favorite, Eskendereya, was forced to pull out because of a leg injury, but it has opened up the race for the 20 other horses competing today.  One of the biggest concerns is whether or not it will rain at Churchill Downs today.  The forecast is not favorable, and heavy rains could give the racetrack a consistency not unlike that of peanut butter.  Pretty soon, we'll find out just what happens at this year's race.  

The derby was actually founded by the grandson of William Clark, who was famous for being the Clark in the Lewis and Clark expedition.  In preparation for creating his own derby in the United States, Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr. traveled to Europe, where he studied the Epsom Derby in England and France's Grand Prix de Paris.  Upon his return to Kentucky, Clark got busy, founding the Louisville Jockey Club to raise funds to build a first-rate racing facility.  His relatives, the Churchills, were kind enough to provide the land he needed and were rewarded by having Churchill Downs named in their honor.  By May 17 of 1875, the first race was won, with 15 horses before a crowd of about 10,000 viewers, with Aristides, a chestnut thoroughbred, winning.  Although that race was profitable, Clark still had money troubles and was forced to sell the racetrack in 1893.  The new owner shortened the track to 2 km.  In 1895, the twin spire grandstand that would differentiate Churchill Downs from all other racing tracks began construction.  Unfortunately, the track still had financial woes until 1902 when Col. Matt Winn took the reigns, so to speak.  Under his guidance, Churchill Downs flourished and the Kentucky Derby eclipsed other races, becoming the United States' oldest and most prestigious Thoroughbred horse race.  But it soon came to their attention that their champions often ran in the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore, Maryland and the Belmont Stakes in Elmont, New York, a few weeks after the Kentucky Derby.  Eventually, these three races joined together to form horse racing's Triple Crown, which takes place over 5 weeks.  It's perhaps the most grueling challenge any racing horse will ever face, and only 11 horses have managed to take the Triple Crown.  Unfortunately, the last win was back in 1978.  I think we're due for another one sometime soon.

Can't make it to Kentucky for the race today?  Well, that's no big deal - the Kentucky Derby may only happen once a year, but, ever since 1985, the Kentucky Derby Museum at Churchill Downs has been open for the rest.  I've been there myself years ago, on a trip with my family across the Bluegrass State.  Visitors can kick off their visit by viewing a 360-degree film called "The Greatest Race."  This tracks the life of a champion from its birth to winning the derby.  And derby history is shared by those who lived it in the film "The Winner's Stable."  If you think you're an expert on the derby, you can test your knowledge in an interactive trivia game.  There's all sorts of derby memorabilia there, spanning two stories, including trophies, photographs and racing silks.  It even has a life-sized statue of Aristides, its original champion.  Plus, there's a mountable, simulated horse where people can try to stand on for two minutes, just like a jockey.  I don't remember seeing that when I was there.  One tour even takes visitors through the stables.  Unfortunately, it's been temporarily closed due to flash flood damage that occurred back in August of 2009.  Historic exhibits were lost from the water damage, but the owners decided to make the best of the bad situation by renovating.  Luckily, it's almost over and the museum will be reopening very soon - on April 18th, to be exact, will all new exhibits.  That's great news - touring this place is a must for any horse lovers or racing fans and it's definitely worth a visit.  I guess I should even consider going back myself sometime, as it's a completely different place than it was when I saw it.

So who will go on to the Winner's Circle to be draped with the blanket of roses, a tradition that dates back to 1895?  We'll know soon enough.  The Triple Crown of horse racing is one sports event I can get behind, if only because it's so quick to follow.  The horses run once around a track that's about 2 km, and it's over.  In fact, the Kentucky Derby is called the Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports.  And perhaps this will be the year that we finally get to see another champion take the Triple Crown.  It's never happened in my lifetime, so I'm excited to see this happen, already.  Let the races begin!


  1. Wow, your commentary adds a lot to the Kentucky Derby! Did you put any money on a horse?

  2. Who would have guessed Super Saver? Way to go Calvin Borel!

  3. Thanks - no, but it's good I didn't as I'm pretty sure I would not have picked a winner!

    Borel's becoming a real derby legend - he may have his own exhibit at their museum.