Five Things to Know About the Kentucky Derby Experience

On May 3, thoroughbred racing insiders, fans, experience seekers and celebs will flock to the most popular horse race in the U.S.
05/01/2014 12:35 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

On May 3, thoroughbred racing insiders, fans, experience seekers and celebs will flock to the most popular horse race in the U.S. Even if you know nothing about horse racing, it's well worth it to visit Louisville, Kentucky to take part in this longstanding American tradition. Here are five tidbits about the Derby and an infographic with some fun facts for your Derby cocktail parties.

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  1. The Kentucky Derby was founded in 1875 by Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr., the grandson of American explorer, William Clark. Horse racing at that point was already a long-standing sport in Louisville dating back to the 1700s.

  • Known as "The Run for the Roses," the Derby is also a run for the money: First place takes over $1.2 million of the guaranteed total $2 million in prize money. But running the famous 1.25 mile race is a gamble, itself, after contenders pay over $51,000 in entry fees. By the way, the tradition of draping the winner with a red rose garland was not original with the early races -- it started in 1932.
  • The Derby is known for its fashionable attendees and Millionaire's Row, but locals will tell you that the much more affordable infield experience is something completely different. Think spring-break-meets-Mardi-Gras for an idea of what to expect if you want to party with 80,000 others at Derby Days. The infield is big enough, however, to host both the raucous crowd at the third turn and a much more family-friendly crowd at first turn.
  • The Derby and fashion go hand-in-hand, and there's even a red carpet to usher in some of the more distinguished guests. In the early years, Clark encouraged his wife and other high-society women to wear their finest frocks. The result was the beginning of the Derby fashion tradition, and women's fashionable dresses and hats are still a staple of the festivities. This year, look for a hat style made famous at England's 2011 royal wedding, the Fascinator, to challenge the traditional Southern Belle style for most popular.
  • Women impact the Derby far beyond fashion, however. Since 1969, female jockeys have been part of the event, and last year, Rosie Napravnik finished 5th, the best to date by a female jockey in the Kentucky Derby. She was the first woman to ride in all three Triple Crown races in 2013, and recently rode to first place in March's Louisiana Derby. Look for her on contender "Vicar's In Trouble" in the 2014 Derby.
  • Our Kentucky Derby infographic has more on the history of the famous race. Raise your mint julep and enjoy the Derby!