Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Jimena from Midland, TX. Jimena Wonders, “Who invented the Kentucky Derby?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Jimena!

What are the most exciting two minutes in sports? Is it the last two minutes of the Super Bowl? Maybe those of Olympic gymnastics? Could it be the last two minutes of the Stanley Cup? No, the most exciting two minutes in sports are during the Kentucky Derby!

The Kentucky Derby is the most well-known horse race in the world. On the first Saturday in May each year, thoroughbreds line up on the Churchill Downs track in Louisville, Kentucky. Ridden by jockeys, they race to the finish line. The horses run very fast. That makes the entire race last only about two minutes. The winner receives a garland of roses and worldwide fame.

How did this event start? It goes back to 1875. That year, Meriwether Lewis Clark, grandson of William Clark, opened Churchill Downs with the first Kentucky Derby. Fifteen horses and 10,000 people went to the first Derby. The winner was a horse named Aristides, ridden by jockey Oliver Lewis.

Over time, the Kentucky Derby became the first of three races—the Triple Crown. Thirteen Kentucky Derby winners have also won the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. The first winner was Sir Barton in 1919. The most recent was Justify in 2018.

However, the most famous Triple Crown winner was Secretariat. He won all three races in 1973. Secretariat also holds the all-time record in all three races. He ran the Kentucky Derby in 1:59.4 minutes. Secretariat won the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths. They later marked the distance on the track with a blue-and-white pole. In 2010, the movie “Secretariat” told the horse’s story.

Most horses in the Kentucky Derby are male. However, 40 fillies have run in the race. Three have won. Their names were Regret (1915), Genuine Risk (1980), and Winning Colors (1988). More fillies race in the Kentucky Oaks, held one day before the Kentucky Derby each year.

Since 1875, the Kentucky Derby has changed quite a bit. In 1896, it was shortened from 1.5 miles to 1.25 miles. Its popularity grew after 1952 when it was first shown on national television. As a result, the crowd has grown. As of 2019, the record crowd size is 165,307 fans, the number attending in 2012. 

Additionally, the race has been postponed twice in its long history. The first was due to World War II horse racing restrictions in 1945. The second was because of the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. The 2020 Derby is also the first to happen without any fans cheering from the stands. 

Not much of a race fan? No problem! The Kentucky Derby is also a fashion event. Fans arrive in their finest dresses and suits. However, they make their biggest fashion statements with their Derby hats. Coming in every shape and size, Derby hats seem to get bigger and more colorful every year.

The Kentucky Derby also welcomes many celebrities each year. People have spotted Mary J. Blige, Kim Kardashian, and Janet Jackson at the Derby. You might also see Luke Bryan or Jessica Simpson. Even Queen Elizabeth II got in on the fun at the 2007 Kentucky Derby!

Would you like to watch the Kentucky Derby? Maybe you’d like to be a jockey or a horse trainer one day! Even if you’d rather just dress up and wear a big hat, the Kentucky Derby is the year’s biggest event for horse racing fans worldwide.

Standards: CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.W.7, CCRA.W.8, CCRA.W.9, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.2, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.SL.2

Wonder What's Next?

Everyone has one, and some people have many of them. Join us in Wonderopolis tomorrow for a closer look at the ties that bind us together!