The Kentucky Derby, A Race of Honor and Tradition
In 1872, Meriwether Lewis Clark was visiting England. While there he attended the Derby, which at the time, was nearly a 100-year-old annual tradition. You can imagine that Mr. Clark was quite taken with the beauty and strength of the horses as they raced around the track. After leaving England, Meriwether Clark continued his travels, this time stopping in France. He attended the Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamps, the greatest horse race in France, at the time. An idea was born and Meriwether Lewis Clark returned to America and founded the Louisville Jockey Club. His goal was to raise enough money to build a quality race track of his own. John and Henry Churchill agreed to donate the land for the new racetrack. Years later, the 1.25 mile track would take on the infamous moniker of Churchill Downs. The race itself was known as the Kentucky Derby and is indubitably the most famous race in the United States. The Kentucky Derby is the first of three races in the Triple Crown. It is followed by the Preakness Stakes in Maryland and rounded out by the Belmont Stakes in New York.
Over the years, the Kentucky Derby has had some winners that stand out more than others. In 1875, the winner of the inaugural race was Aristides, who was jockeyed by Oliver Lewis. The fastest time around the track belongs to Secretariat, a renowned horse who went on to win the Triple Crown in 1973. Sitting astride Secretariat was Ron Turcotte. Eddie Arcaro and Bill Hartack have both achieved the honor of having the most wins by a single jockey, tying their accomplishments at five wins. Another famous jockey to pass through the gates of the Kentucky Derby was Bill Shoemaker, who, until recently, held the world record for the most wins in horse racing by guiding 8,833 horses to victory. Obviously, Shoemaker knew what it would take to get a win. He said, “Desire is the most important factor in the success of any athlete.”
“Desire is the most important factor in the success of any athlete.” – Bill Shoemaker
The Kentucky Derby, also known as the “Run for the Roses,” is an event steeped in tradition as much as it is in sport. The winner receives a blanket of 564 red roses, a tradition that dates as far back as 1883. Female attendees to the event often participate in the Derby Hat Parade, where every woman wears a stylish outfit and an elegant and often outlandish hat. The rich and famous sit in special reserved seating, in a section aptly named “Millionaire’s Row.” Even the food and beverages are not exempt from rituals. Guests of the Kentucky Derby sip Mint Juleps and feast on a thick, meaty stew called Burgoo and cheer on their favorites, winning prizes if they bet on the correct horses to win.
At the Derby, winning is the ultimate goal, but in this race, those in second and third are pleased as well. Julien LeParoux was the jockey astride Better Lucky in the 2013 Kentucky Derby. Better Lucky came in third. When asked if he thought his horse could have done better, he said, “I had a very good trip. No excuses. She ran hard. She tried hard and no excuses.” Sometimes, it is enough to try your best and be confident in knowing that you did the best you could. Winning is not everything.
“I had a very good trip. No excuses. She ran hard. She tried hard and no excuses.” – Julien LeParoux
Horseracing is a beautiful and graceful sport of indomitable spirits. If you go back to Bill Shoemaker, so often a winner, for the last of these inspirational quotes, he said, “I never gave up. A few times I didn’t think I was going to make it. But I never quit.” This is as true for horseracing as it is for all sports. Keep going and never give up.
“I never gave up. A few times I didn’t think I was going to make it. But I never quit.” – Bill Shoemaker
“Desire is the most important factor in the success of any athlete.” – Bill Shoemaker (photo credit: s myers via photopin cc)