Written by Harrison Reilly
The first weekend in May is arguably the greatest sporting weekend in America. Hockey and basketball playoffs are in full swing, baseball season is well underway, the NFL draft takes place and the marquee boxing bout of the year is held, this year with Mayweather vs. Pacquiao, one of the most hyped boxing matches of the all time. But one event tops them all: The Kentucky Derby in Louisville at Churchill Downs.
Called “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports” for its quick duration, the Run for the Roses is one of America’s oldest traditions, celebrating its 141st year in 2015. The event is is the crown jewel of showcasing southern hospitality, with ladies dressing in sun dresses and big hats and gentlemen sporting light colored suits, both indulging in mint juleps and other Kentucky delicacies.
It’s also one of the biggest betting events in the United States, with $165.2 million in wages, with $23.4 million being waged at the track during the 2011 Kentucky Derby. And, of course, it’s a big TV event, with 15.3 million people watching the race in 2014.
While the pageantry of the event brings many wealthy and famous people to Churchill Downs, this race wouldn’t happen without the the amazing thoroughbreds that compete each year. The race is a Grade 1 stakes race exclusively for three-year-old thoroughbreds, where owners have paid millions of dollars to buy and train horses.
Many of the thoroughbreds come from a pedigree of former successful race horses. For example, this year’s favorite, American Pharaoh (9/4 odds), was sired by Pioneer of the Nile, who finished runner up in the 2009 Kentucky Derby. The horse Pioneer of the Nile was sired by was Empire Maker, winner of the 2003 Belmont Stakes. In fact, American Pharaoh’s pedigree can be traced all the way back to the most famous race horse of all time, Secretariat.
Despite criticism from animal activist groups and cruelty found on smaller horse circuits, Kentucky Derby thoroughbreds are some of the best treated horses in the world. Groups such as the Jockey Club ensure that horses aren’t mistreated and trained the correct way. The club oversees many different groups that work to serve the best interests of the horses, from birth to when they’re race-ready all the way their retirement life.
The horses are incredible physical specimens. They can sustain a speed of 42 miles per hour on Churchill Down’s 1 1/4 mile long track. Trainers spend endless hours breeding the best horses just at the chance to race in the derby, where nearly 400 horses compete for 20 spots during the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
The Kentucky Derby is an event like any other in America. It’s a combination of premiere animal breeding, American decadence and unparalleled excitement across any sport. Be sure to watch this weekend on NBC at 2:30 p.m. E.T.