It’s not only one of the most prestigious horse races on American soil, it’s also one of the most-watched sporting events on the entire continent.
Some 150,000 people crammed into Churchill Downs in May 2023 for the Kentucky Derby, so you’ll do well to find an event as popular this anywhere in America.
Bringing together many of the best three-year-old thoroughbreds from across the country, the Kentucky Derby is one of the oldest and richest horse races in North America – here’s everything you need to know about this storied occasion.
Oldie and a Goodie
Most of the runners and riders involved in the 2024 Kentucky Derby weren’t even a twinkle in their forefathers’ eyes when the race was first held as far back as 1875.
And yet likes of Fierceness (+1000), Nysos (+1100) and Nash (+1400), who lead the way in the horse races betting for the 2024 edition, will have an opportunity to add their names to the bumper history books if they can prevail not far shy of the race’s 150th anniversary.
The inaugural winner, Aristides, nearly went on to win the Belmont Stakes as well in 1875 – that race, alongside the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, makes up American racing’s Triple Crown; the trio of events that all trainers, owners and jockeys want to win.
Lucky No. 13!!
Justify wins the Triple Crown!👑👑👑 pic.twitter.com/PWlAyTmu0T
— Kentucky Derby (@KentuckyDerby) June 9, 2018
In recent times, Justify and American Pharaoh have won the Triple Crown after dominating at Churchill Downs, and while by the nature of the entry requirements of the race no horse can win it in consecutive years, that’s not to say that connections can’t – former jockeys Eddie Arcaro and Bill Hartack both won the Kentucky Derby five times in the saddle, while Bob Baffert needs just one more victory to become the winning-most trainer in the race’s history.
Anatomy of a Champion
So what does it take to win the Kentucky Derby?
One of the key denominators over the years has been an ability to win a prep race in the build-up to the big race each May – indeed, 29 of the last 40 winners of the Derby had won a race such as the Florida Derby or the Arkansas Derby in the weeks prior.
Generally, the horse’s connections have had some previous success in the race. A whole host of jockeys, trainers and owners have multiple Kentucky Derby wins to their name – proof that there’s no substitute for experience in preparing horses for the big race, or in the skill of a jockey to time their run in a way that doesn’t see their mount get over-excited by the huge Churchill Downs crowd.
MAGE wins the 149th Kentucky Derby! pic.twitter.com/ILk4NFnuEO
— Churchill Downs (@ChurchillDowns) May 7, 2023
Of course, there are exceptions to the rule – in 2023, Gustavo Delgado and Javier Castellano joined forces to both enjoy their maiden Kentucky Derby victory with the chestnut horse Mage.
The three-year-old was also available at sportsbook odds of +1500 – the fifth year in a row in which a horse other than the favorite had won the race.
The 2021 champion, Mandaloun, was available to back at +1200 and Rich Strike, the 2022 victor, at +3000. So perhaps the best takeaway point about the Kentucky Derby is to expect the unexpected!