Kentucky Derby Traditions and the History Behind Them
Originated in 1875, The Kentucky Derby is a very well-known annual race in American history held at the Churchill Downs racetrack in Louisville Kentucky on the first Saturday in May. Along with the history, the Kentucky Derby has earned itself many sacred traditions. Here are a few of our favorite traditions of the Kentucky Derby that you may not have been aware of.
Garland of Roses
The Garland of Roses symbolizes the struggle and heart necessary to reach the Derby Winner’s Circle. The first rose garland appeared in 1896 when Ben Brush, received a floral arrangement of white and pink roses for his win, causing the red rose to become the official flower for the Kentucky Derby in 1904. The garland as we know it today was first debuted for the 58th running won by none other than Burgoo King.
The Mint Julep has been the official cocktail of the Kentucky Derby for nearly a century. The Mint Julep is traditionally made with Bourbon, mint, sugar and water, and is served in a sliver or pewter cup. Although the exact origin of the drink remains unknown, it became very popular in the South and especially popular in Kentucky where 95% of the world’s Bourbon is produced, causing it to be the official drink of the Kentucky Derby since 1938.
The Twin Spires atop of the Churchill Down’s grandstand roofline where constructed in 1895 by 24-year-old draftsman, Joseph Baldez. Although the plans did not include the Twin Spires at first, Baldez felt the structure needed something to give the grandstand a striking appearance. Now, the Twin Spires remain as an everlasting monument to Baldez’s memory. Today, visitors from all over the world come to see the amazement that is the Twin Spires.
The Kentucky Oaks is a Grade I stakes race, for three-year-old Thoroughbred fillies. This race is staged annually at Churchill Downs on the Friday before the Kentucky Derby. The first running of the Kentucky Oaks was on May 19, 1875. The race was founded by Meriwether Lewis Clark, the grandson of explorer and Missouri governor General William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The Kentucky Oaks is considered to be among the most popular horse races in American horse-racing society due to its high attendance. You can find out more about this year’s contenders at Horse Racing Nation.
My Old Kentucky Home (Song)
Originally written by Stephen Foster and most likely composed in 1852, My Old Kentucky Home was officially published in 1853. The ballad describes an enslaved servant’s description of the natural beauty and their feelings associated with the Kentucky landscape. It is believed to have originated as a Derby Day tradition in 1921 for the 47th running, and was ultimately named the Kentucky state song in 1928.
Kentucky Derby Hats
The tradition of the over-the-top headgear dates to when the Kentucky Derby first started in 1875. At the time the race track had a reputation as immoral, and the founder Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr wanted to ensure a favorable crowd at his event and add some aristocratic flare to the Derby. Clark encouraged high society women to tell their friends about the event, and have a lovely and proper picnic at the racetrack and eventually it worked in changing the culture of the race! The wealthy class flooded into the stadium in their fanciest attire as a place to been “seen”, and Southern belles across the region flocked to the derby to wearing their crowning glory. This tradition has now evolved into a hat being a good luck charm, men and women alike will be wearing hats on Saturday’s race to hopefully look a gift horse in the mouth.
Good luck at Gettin’ Lucky in Kentucky!