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Running for the Roses: 143 Years of Racing

Spencer Lockhart '18, Assistant Sports Editor
On May 17, 1875, fifteen thoroughbred horses competed in what was the first-ever Kentucky Derby
On May 17, 1875, fifteen thoroughbred horses competed in what was the first-ever Kentucky Derby. The frst champion of the event was Aristides, ridden by Oliver Lewis. One hundred and forty two Derbys later, the American public fnds itself awaiting the annual race at the Churchill Downs racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky.

The Run for the Roses, as the Derby is called to due to the blanket of roses the winner is adorned in, draws millions of viewers each year. 15.5 million people tuned in to NBC last year to watch the Derby. That number is only slightly below the 16.5 million viewers, on average, that the NFL attracted for its regular-season games last year. However, the Kentucky Derby is only about two minutes long, nowhere near the length of a football game.

So just what exactly makes the Kentucky Derby “the Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports”? Money, and the chance at history.

Every Kentucky Derby that rolls around presents the opportunity for millions of dollars to be won. Most of this money is won, not by the people participating in the race, but rather by the people betting on the race’s outcome. Exacta (correctly picking the top two fnishers in order), Trifecta (correctly picking the top three in order), and Superfecta (top four in order) are just three of the eleven diferent ways to bet on the Kentucky Derby. In 2005, just a two-dollar Superfecta bet could have earned the better an incredible $1,728,507 payout, a prize no one actually won.

The most popular form of betting one sees across sports is the straight win bet. Pick a winner, place a bet, collect if they win. Last year, 24% of all bets were the traditional “win” bet. The largest payout for a two-dollar win bet ever was in 1913, when a two-dollar bet placed on Donerail, a horse with 91-1 odds to win, paid out $184.90, which today would equate to about $4,553.41.

Regardless of whether or not you care about the actual sport, or even sports at all, the Kentucky Derby serves as an exciting opportunity to earn a little extra cash.

Each Kentucky Derby kicks off two noteworthy times in the sports calendar: Horse Racing Hat season and Triple Crown season. The extravagant hats that people sport to the races are always a hot topic of conversation. “I find the wild hats intriguing,” said Alex Hughes ’19. “They are the only reason I watch the race each year.”

Other people, though, watch for the chance to witness history. “It’s always exciting to watch a horse start its journey towards the Triple Crown with a win at the Derby,” said Zack Putnam ’18.

The frst of twelve Triple Crown winners was Sir Barton in 1919, and the most recent was, as many remember, American Pharaoh in 2015. The proximity that all the races have to each other, all three taking place within about a month and a half this year, does not allow for a lot of recovery time for the horses that run all three races.

There have been plenty of times where the health of the Triple Crown contender does not allow him to be successful in the fnal third of the Triple Crown; take, for example, Big Brown in 2008. In Big Brown’s case, a three-inch crack he sustained in his left front hoof led to him becoming the frst horse in history to win the first two legs of the crown and then fail to finish the Belmont Stakes.

Overcoming the health and stamina rigors is made even more impressive by the fact that horses competing for the Triple Crown are going up against horses who may not have run the other races, giving them fresher legs and more energy. The Triple Crown is one of the most iconic achievements in all of sports, and it all starts at the Kentucky Derby.

This year’s Derby will be run on Saturday, May 6, when another Triple Crown hopeful will be starting his journey with a victory, and some lucky folks will have their pockets made heavy with winnings.
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