Next to baseball, there are few sporting events that rival the Kentucky Derby as a national pastime. Although its roots are in the UK, it has become an American symbol.
Meriwether Lewis Clark, named for his famous grandfather, wanted to recreate England’s Epsom Derby on his home turf. The influence from across the pond can be seen in, for example, the sea of big fancy hats.
While the fashion, the food and the fun are all essential parts of the Derby, the focus is on the horses. Learn more about the history of this iconic event with these top five finishes of America’s greatest race.
Brokers Tip, 1933
In the footage showing this race from almost a century ago, you can see the jockeys playing dirty when they near the finish line. As Head Play and Brokers Tip galloped for the win, the two jockeys started to do anything they could to get ahead, including pulling on legs and bridles, even whipping each other to gain the advantage. It would be Brokers Tip’s only win in the Derby.
Dark Star, 1953
Native Dancer, nicknamed the “Grey Ghost,” was the clear favorite to win in 1953. However, Native Dancer was roughed up shortly out of the gate, and Dark Star leaped ahead. Even though Dark Star was a 24-1 long shot, he won by a head. Watch the race to see the unlikely winner take the day.
Footage of Secretariat’s upset in the 1973 Derby is still a nail-biter, even if you saw the 2010 movie (or at least heard about it). Secretariat was the first American thoroughbred to win the Triple Crown in 25 years, and he ran the Derby in under two minutes. The horse blazed through the last quarter-mile in 23 seconds flat, breaking a record set by Whirlaway in 1941 at 23 3/5 seconds.
Mine That Bird, 2009
People love an underdog, and Mine That Bird was running dead last until he shot ahead and won the race in the final furlong. The NBC announcer didn’t even notice the horse’s winning lead until Mine That Bird was three lengths ahead. Mine That Bird was the longest-odds horse to win the Derby in more than 85 years, according to the BBC.
American Pharaoh, 2015
When American Pharaoh jumped ahead of Firing Line and won with a time of 2:03, the horse broke a Triple Crown drought of more than 30 years. His 42-year-old jockey Victor Espinoza became the oldest jockey and the first Mexican-American to ever win the award.
“I feel like the luckiest Mexican on Earth,” Espinoza said after the race, according to kentuckyderby.com.
Espinoza’s win represents one of the best parts of the American spirit: the chance for anyone to succeed. Another great American spirit (excuse the pun) is the mint julep, made with real Kentucky bourbon. When you’re creating the drinks list for your viewing party this year, celebrate Woodford Reserve’s 20th year as the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby with a commemorative 20th anniversary bottle, and keep the mint juleps rolling while you celebrate 144 years of America’s greatest race.