Derby, Interrupted

The weather forecast was perfect for the weekend. This would have been the starting point for my handicapping methods. First weather, and onward from there. – The Kentucky Derby, first held in 1875 at Churchill Downs racetrack in Louisville, it is the longest-running sports event in the United States. Dubbed the “Run for the Roses,” the Derby features three-year-old Thoroughbreds racing over a 1 1/4 distance. – Over 150,000 fans pack into the monstrous facility and watch as a stampede of runners tries to etch their names in the history books.

The Derby was started by Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr., grandson of explorer of William Clark of Lewis and Clark expedition fame. Clark, who was inspired by horse races he’d seen in Europe, raised the money to build Churchill Downs. – In 1872, Clark traveled to Europe, where he visited leading horse-racing sites in England and France. He was inspired by England’s Epsom Downs racecourse, home since 1780 of the Derby Stakes, a 1 1/2 race for three-year-old horses organized by the 12th Earl of Derby and his friends. Clark returned home to Kentucky, founded the Louisville Jockey Club, and raised money to construct a racetrack on land donated by his uncles, Henry and John Churchill. Famed for throwing extravagant parties, Clark envisioned his racetrack as a place where the city’s stylish residents would gather.

Thirteen of the fifteen jockeys in the inaugural Derby were black, and black riders played a dominant role in the race’s early years. Between 1875 and 1902, eleven black jockeys rode 15 of the winning horses.

However, by the early 20th century, prejudice and jealousy of these jockeys’ success resulted in African-American riders largely disappearing from horse racing. Jimmy Winkfield, the last black jockey to win the Derby, did so in 1901 and 1902. – Another change to the Derby that occurred in its early years was the shortening of the race. In 1896, following complaints by some members of the racing community that the distance was too long, the event was reduced from 1 1/2 miles to 1 1/4 miles, the length it remains today.

In 1902, a new management team took over Churchill Downs that included Martin “Matt” Winn, a Louisville native and larger-than-life promoter who was instrumental in transforming the Derby from a local event into America’s most iconic horse race. -In 1908, Winn, who eventually started using the honorary title “Colonel,” played a key role in introducing a new system of placing bets at Churchill Downs, replacing human bookmakers with French pari-mutuel machines, a move that proved popular with race fans. -Winn also started the publicity-generating practice of inviting celebrities to the Derby and advocated broadcasting the race on the radio, something other racing executives thought it would hurt attendance numbers.

In 1925, the Derby aired on network radio for the first time; and afterward, attendance continued to grow. 1949 marked the first year the Derby was locally televised. Three years later, in 1952, the Kentucky Derby made its debut on national TV.

As hoards of race-goers, people watchers, gamblers, and celebrities gathered on the hallowed grounds. – The melting pot of humanity all came together on this glorious day. The first Saturday in May was a time when men from all walks would stand shoulder-to-shoulder and celebrate the Thoroughbred.

Many sporting events were canceled during the Great Depression or during the World Wars, as the official race website reads. The race often referred to as ‘The Run for the Roses’ and has continuously produced the most exciting two minutes in sports’ uninterrupted. – Even a postponement would be an oddity. – This came to fruition when it was postponed in January 1945 during WWII, and a complete ban on racing was instituted on January 3rd, 1945. – Nazi Germany surrendered on May 8th, and the organizers scrambled to put on the show. 65,000 fans filled the stands on June 9th for the 71st “Run for the Roses.”

In 2020, the Kentucky Derby will be postponed until the first Saturday in September. – We have 128 days from the time of this writing, and I’m counting the days. This weekend won’t be the same without the Oaks and Derby, but the times are uncertain.  Live Thoroughbred racing returns on May 11, 2020, to Churchill Downs. – The only change will be no spectators on track. We will still be able to watch and wager on the races with no roaring crowds. – If that’s the worst thing to happen. Bring it on! – I want to watch the ponies. We’ll have great coverage on TVG, FS1, and NBCSN or your favorite ADW or computer device. It’s the only sport to wager on. – It was postponed, but the show will go on.