Are you ready for the most exciting two minutes in sports? The tradition continues this Saturday, May 7th with the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby. The Kentucky Derby has been held every year since 1875 and has been staged on the first Saturday in May every year since 1946, with two exceptions. The 1945 Derby was held on June 9th because of World War II and 2020’s 146th Kentucky Derby was held on Sept. 5th after it was moved over fears of the coronavirus pandemic. Below are a few fun facts and everything you need to know about the race this year! (Source: ESPN & KentuckyDerby.com)
When Did the Kentucky Derby Begin: The Kentucky Derby’s long history began in 1872, when Meriwether Lewis Clark, the grandson of William Clark – of the famed pair Lewis and Clark – traveled to Europe. While back in Europe, Clark attended the Epsom Derby in England, a well-known horse race run since the 1780s. From there, Clark went on to Paris, France, where a group of racing enthusiasts had formed the French Jockey Club in 1863. They had organized the Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp, which at the time was the greatest race in France. 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. On May 17th, 1875, the racetrack opened its gates and the Louisville Jockey Club sponsored the very first Kentucky Derby. It’s worth noting, a total of fifteen three-year-old Thoroughbred horses raced one and a half miles in front of a cheering crowd of approximately 10,000 spectators. Aristides was the first winner of the Kentucky Derby. To this day the Kentucky Derby is the longest running sporting event in the United States.
TV Coverage & Start Time: The race is set to be broadcast by NBC, with main network coverage of pre-race activities starting at 1:30 pm CST. Post time is scheduled for 5:57 PM CST this year.
How Long Is The Race? 1.25 Miles – Secretariat’s 1973 time of 1:59.40 remains the fastest. It’s worth noting, only one other horse finished in under two minutes, which was Monarchos in 2001.
How Much Will The Winner Receive? This year’s winner will receive close to $1.86 million. Last year’s winner received $1.5 million. It’s worth noting, only one of the 2022 Kentucky Derby contenders has already earned over $1 million thanks to his performances during the 2022 Kentucky Derby prep races, Tiz The Bomb. Keep in mind, the colt has already competed in seven races of at least one mile, winning five of them. It also might interest you to know that it costs each owner a minimum of $50,000 per horse and up to $200,000 under special circumstances to just enter the Derby.
Ever Heard of the Kentucky Oaks?: The day before the Derby, there’s the Kentucky Oaks. Also founded by Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr., the Kentucky Oaks is the premier race for three-year-old female horses, called fillies. The first Oaks race took place on May 19, 1875, two days after the first Kentucky Derby. Like the Derby, the winner also receives a garland, but it’s made of lilies instead of roses. It’s appropriately named “lilies for the fillies.” Spectators at the Kentucky Oaks are asked to wear pink to raise money and increase awareness of women’s health issues, specifically ovarian and breast cancers.
The Run for the Roses: The Derby is frequently referred to as “The Run for the Roses”, because a lush blanket of 554 red roses is awarded to the Kentucky Derby winner each year. The tradition originated in 1883 when New York City socialite E. Berry Wall presented roses to ladies at a post-Derby party. It just so happens that Churchill Downs and Meriwether Lewis Clark were attending the same event that evening. It has been said this gesture is believed to have led Clark to the idea of making the rose the race’s official flower. However, it was not until 1896 that any recorded account referred to draping roses on the Derby winner. It’s worth noting, the Governor of Kentucky awards the garland and the Kentucky Derby Trophy.
Mint Julips: Almost 120,000 mint juleps are served every year over the weekend of the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby. Keep in mind, that many drinks require 1,000 pounds of fresh mint, 60,000 pounds of ice, and 10,000 bottles of Old Forester Mint Julep cocktail.
How Much Is Bet On The Kentucky Derby: After a very poor betting year in 2020 due to COVID-19, the Kentucky Derby Day totaled $233 million last year, surpassed only by the record of $250.9 million of 2019. Many inside the industry believe this year could break the 2019 record! It’s worth noting, the largest wager last year was by Jim McIngvale – also known as “Mattress Mack” – at $2.4 million on Essential Quality.
Betting The Exotics: In 2005, for example, 50-1 shot Giacomo won it all, boosting the superfecta to a whopping $864,253.50 on a $1 bet. Even though last year’s winner, Justify, became the sixth straight favorite to win the Derby, the superfecta still paid a $19,618 return on a $2 ticket.
What About Weather? The longest stretch of completely dry Kentucky Derby days is 12, from 1875 when it first ran through 1886. The coldest temperature ever on Kentucky Derby day was 36 degrees in 1940 and 1957.
Winning Position: In Kentucky Derby history, no positions have produced more winners than those that start from the number 5, with 10 overall. In addition, 8 and 10 aren’t far behind with nine overall wins. Last year Medina Spirit won with position 8. Being near the rail has been bad news. It’s been 33 years since Ferdinand won from the number 1 position, and 39 years since Affirmed won from the number 2 position. The No. 17 post is 0-for-38, the only one 1-20 to have not produced a winner. It’s also worth noting, only three No 17 horses have finished in the money in 42 overall starts.
HORSES to WATCH
The Favorite… “Zandon” – The third time was the charm for Zandon! After placing in his first two starts on the road to the Kentucky Derby, Zandon unleashed an explosive rally to dominate Keeneland’s Blue Grass and stamp his credentials as a serious Kentucky Derby threat in 2022. Zandon, trained by Chad Brown, opened with 3-1 odds Monday night and will start from the No. 10 post among 20 horses. Keep in mind, the colt moved to second in Derby points behind Epicenter after rallying from the back of the field to win last month’s Blue Grass at Keeneland in Lexington. Overall, he has two wins, a second-place finish and a third in four career starts. Zandon was bred in Kentucky by the state’s former Governor Brereton Jones and attracted a final bid of $170,000 at the 2020 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. He is the first registered foal out of the unraced Creative Cause mare Memories Prevail; she has since produced a two-year-old Summer Front colt named Sol Principe Gris and an unnamed yearling filly by American Freedom
Epicenter – The initial betting favorite to win at Churchill Downs before the draw Monday night was Epicenter following consecutive graded stakes wins, including the Louisiana Derby in March. Remember, the colt has notched victories in four of its past five races and he finished second in the other, so he’s had plenty of past success. It’s also worth noting, Steve Asmussen has won the Preakness Stakes twice and the Belmont Stakes once, but the longtime trainer has never been victorious at the Kentucky Derby. Perhaps this could be the year he completes his personal Triple Crown, as he could win the race with Epicenter. In addition, Epicenter has a former Derby champion as his jockey, Joel Rosario, who won the race with Orb in 2013. At the end of the day… not a lot to not like about this horse!
Messier – 2-year-old son of Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker, finished second in his career debut in June 2021 at Los Alamitos but graduated with honors in his next start at Santa Anita Park on October 22nd, winning a six-furlong maiden race by 6 ½ lengths. Overall, Messier has a total of eight starts with only four first place wins. Although Messier isn’t the most impressive in the wins category, many horse gamblers are placing bets on Messier because John Velazquez will be the jockey. Keep in mind, Velazquez won the derby in 2011 on Animal Kingdom, 2017 on Always Dreaming, and 2020 on Authentic. In addition, last year, he crossed the finish line first aboard Medina Spirit for what was then a fourth-career Derby victory for Velazquez — but the horse was subsequently disqualified. Should be interesting as Velazquez is going for his third consecutive win at Churchill this year.
Taiba – $1.7 million son of 2017 Horse of the Year and promising young sire Gun Runner, Taiba had great expectations before he first raced. He made his first start in a six-furlong maiden special weight race at Santa Anita Park on Mar. 5, 2022, and impressively won by 7 1/2 lengths. He covered six furlongs in a sharp 1:09.97. Although he is the son of the horse of the year, many inside the horse racing industry are talking about “Big Money” Mike Smith, who will be his jockey at the Kentucky Derby this year. It’s worth noting, Smith won the Derby in 2005 on Giacomo and 2018 on Justify. Overall, he has won 5,600 races and seven Triple Crown races. It’s worth mentioning, if Smith at age 56 were to cross the line first with Taiba, he’d become the oldest rider to win the Kentucky Derby.
Smile Happy – It took more than three decades, but Louisville native Mike Mackin and his family finally have a Kentucky Derby contender. Smile Happy, a son of Runhappy, started off hot in his racing career winning the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club in November of 2021 at Churchill and his debut race at Keeneland. After that, he has finished second in both of his races this year — behind Epicenter in the Grade 2 Risen Star on Feb. 19th at Fair Grounds and behind Zandon in the Grade 1 Blue Grass on April 9th at Keeneland. His trainer is Kenneth McPeek, who has a knack for finding talent at bargain prices and developing those young horses to rise to the top levels of the sport. Additionally, Corey Lanerie will be the jockey on Smile Happy, who finished second in the 2017 Kentucky Derby on Lookin At Lee.
Tiz the Bomb – If you’re looking for more of a long shot to bet on this year for the Kentucky Derby, then Tiz the Bomb should be a horse to consider this weekend. It’s worth noting, Tiz the Bomb has mainly raced on turf and synthetic surfaces throughout his career, but he has the potential to have a strong showing on the dirt at Churchill Downs. Overall, Tiz the Bomb has notched five wins in his past seven races, including a victory at the Jeff Ruby Steaks last month. For the most part it seems like this horse clearly knows how to win, even if he hasn’t produced the same type of results on dirt. It’s worth noting, trainer Ken McPeek has previously won the Preakness and the Belmont, but he’s still looking for his first Kentucky Derby win. In addition, jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. has never won a Triple Crown race.