The Kentucky Derby runs on the first Saturday in May in Louisville at the historic Churchill Downs racetrack. As a native Kentuckian, it always brings a sense of pride when the world turns its attention to my home state. Horseracing is the sport of kings, and the Derby is known as the most exciting two minutes in sports. I recommend tuning in early to NBC to catch the riders taking their mount in the paddock, the playing of "My Old Kentucky Home" as the horses go to the starting gate, and a bugle signaling the race is about to begin.
Some additional information to help you speak knowledgeably with your friends and neighbors about the race:
Only three-year old horses run in the Derby, so they only get one shot.
The Derby is the longest continual sporting event in the United States (148 years, including during COVID).
The Derby is the first jewel in the Triple Crown. Triple Crown winners are horses that win the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness in Baltimore, and the Belmont outside of New York City.
After a 37-year drought without a Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah (purposefully misspelled) won all three races in 2015, and Justify won in 2018.
The Derby is known as the "Run for the Roses" because the winning thoroughbred receives a blanket of roses.
Controversy has struck the sport with allegations of doping. Racing officials recently suspended legendary trainer Bob Baffert when they determined last year's Derby winner had an illegal substance in its system.
The Derby always has a vast field, much larger than regular races, with 20 horses. However, only about the top five or six are genuine contenders.
No two thoroughbreds can have the same name, which adds to the entertainment. From this year's field, some favorites are Happy Jack, Summer Is Tomorrow, Tiz The Bomb, and Cyberknife.
Trainers are the superstars of the sport. Todd Pletcher, who won the Derby in 2010 and 2017, has trained three horses this year. In my opinion, Mo Donegal is by far his best horse.
Trainer Steve Asmussen is the highest-earning North American trainer to never win the Derby. Epicenter could be his ticket to the winner's circle.
Conventional wisdom favors horses starting from the first or second gate (closest to the rail = the shortest trip). However, the vast Derby field makes that less certain. Sports reporters note that since 2000, 11 of the 21 Kentucky Derby winners have broken from gate 13 or higher. Bad news for Epicenter, starting from the third post position, but good news for White Abarrio in post position 15.
Some other tips:
While watching at home, Derby hats and dapper suits are not required but certainly encouraged.
Please stand at the playing of "My Old Kentucky Home."
Mint Juleps are considered the official drink of the Derby. But for those wanting to avoid bourbon whiskey (invented in Kentucky), I suggest a local ginger ale bottled near my hometown called Ale 8-1.
Lastly, don't be embarrassed to cheer for your horse through the television. I believe it helps!