Arts & Culture

Kentucky Derby by the Numbers

Highlights from one hundred forty-four years of history

photo: Andrew Hyslop

Perhaps no other American sporting event is as widely beloved as the Kentucky Derby. You might not know a rail runner (a horse who likes to run on the inside rail) from a rabbit (a horse with little chance to win and entered to help set the pace for another), but you’d likely recognize the names American Pharoah and Secretariat—maybe even Man o’ War. And even if you’ve never been inside Louisville’s twin-spired horse-racing cathedral, we’d bet you’ve sipped a mint julep once or twice on the first Saturday in May. The Derby is built on tradition—the hats!—and as we approach the one-hundred-forty-fourth running, there’s plenty of history to uncover. Below, we’ve compiled your Derby Day primer, by the numbers.


0…times Man o’ War—widely considered the greatest race horse in the sport’s history—won the Kentucky Derby. His owner Samuel Riddle refused to enter him in the Derby, citing the state’s unpredictable May weather and the short distance between the Kentucky race and the other two jewels of the Triple Crown, which the legendary horse did win.

 

1.25…miles. The current distance of the Derby. It was decreased in 1896 from 1.5 miles because that length was considered too long for a 3-year-old thoroughbred (the age of eligible horses) to run in early spring.

 

1.59.4…minutes. The time Secretariat clocked in 1973 to win—still the fastest on record.

 

3…the number of fillies that have crossed the finish line triumphant—Regret (1915), Genuine Risk (1980), Winning Colors (1988).

 

5…the number of times the jockeys Eddie Arcaro and Bill Hartack have seen the inside of the winner’s circle—still the most by any rider.

 

8…the number of Derby winners produced by the Lexington, Kentucky-based Calumet Farm (titles in: 1941, 1944, 1948, 1949, 1952, 1957, 1958, 1968)—more than any other stable.

 

20…the average number of horses who make a run for the roses each May.

 

26… the total number of mounts Texas-born Bill Shoemaker rode in the Derby—the most of any jockey. He won his fourth Derby in 1986, at age 54, when he piloted Ferdinand to victory.

 

50…cents. The price of general admission tickets when they were introduced in 1938.

 

91-1…the odds of the biggest long-shot winner—Donerail in 1913. Each $2 win ticket paid $184.90—a Derby record.

 

400…the number of red roses stitched into the champion’s garland, which led New York sports columnist Bill Corum to famously dub the Derby the “Run for the Roses” in 1925. The single rose protruding at the center is said to represent “the struggle and heart” needed to claim the mantle.

 

1875…the year Meriwether Lewis Clark—grandson of the famed explorer William Clark—founded the Kentucky Derby after traveling to England in 1873 and witnessing the pageantry of the Epsom Derby. Aristides took home top honors that first year.

 

1970… the year the first female jockey, Diane Crump, raced in the Derby. Though no women have yet galloped to victory, five more have worn the silks since.

 

10,000…the number of spectators who watched the first running in 1875.

 

120,000…the average number of mint juleps sipped at Churchill Downs over Derby weekend.

 

170,513…the number of tickets sold in 2015—still the Derby’s highest attendance.

 

1,425,000… dollars. The amount of the 2018 first-place purse.

 

209,200,000… dollars. The largest total amount of money wagered across all sources on the Kentucky Derby—set in 2017.


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