14 traditions that make the Kentucky Derby unlike any other event in sports

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  • The Kentucky Derby is one of the unique sporting events in American sports.
  • The two-minute race is the longest-running sporting event in the U.S., dating back to 1875.
  • From the hats to the cocktails, wagers, and more, here are all the reasons to love the Kentucky Derby.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The Kentucky Derby is one of the most popular, fun events in American sports.

Often dubbed “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports,” the Kentucky Derby is a day-long party built around a 1.25-mile horse race.

From the hats, funky clothes, traditional cocktails, wagers, glamour, and history, here are all the reasons the Kentucky Derby is unlike any other sporting event in the U.S.


1. The Kentucky Derby is the longest-running sports event in the U.S.

Jerry Cooke/Corbis/Getty Images

According to the Churchill Downs website, the race-track opened in 1875 after its founder, Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark, the son of the explorer William Clark, returned from England, where he became obsessed with horse-racing.

The first-ever Kentucky Derby took place in 1875 and has continued each year, even during events like the Great Depression and both World Wars.

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Kentucky Derby


2. “The most exciting two minutes in sports.”

Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

There are 14 races on the day of the Kentucky Derby, but race No. 12 is the big one. Nicknamed “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports” or “The Fastest Two Minutes in Sports,” horses run a 1.25-mile race, the highlight of the day, in usually just over two minutes. No other major sporting event in the U.S. is so short.


3. The hats!

Robin Marchant/Getty Images

Hats were initially customary to wear when the race began and continued to be for years. The hat styles were conservative until the 1960s when people began to wear more flamboyant and creative hats. Now the colourful hats are as much a part of the experience as the race.

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Kentucky Derby


4. The overall dress code

Mike Coppola/Getty Images

Churchill Downs’ website lists its dress code for various sections in the stadium, ranging from business casual to track casual. Some clubs and suites won’t let visitors in without jackets. Even the more relaxed areas don’t want ripped denim or athletic wear.

Most visitors go over-the-top, anyway.

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Churchill Downs


5. The mint juleps

Aaron Josefczyk/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

The drink, consisting of bourbon, mint, and simple syrup, has become a favourite drink at the Kentucky Derby for years. They make an estimated 120,000 per year.

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Kentucky Derby


6. The celebrities

Robin Marchant/Getty Images for Churchill Downs

Naturally, one of the biggest sporting events and fashion demonstrations draws celebrities. The Kentucky Derby has drawn actual royalty from Queen Elizabeth II; to Hollywood royalty, like the Kardashians and A-list actors like Jack Nicholson and Brad Pitt; to sports royalty, like Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and Michael Jordan.


7. The proliferation of gambling

Elsa/Getty Images

There might not be another U.S. sporting event where gambling plays such a pivotal role. An estimated $US150 million is wagered at the Kentucky Derby each year, and there are plenty of in-house opportunities for people to place bets.


8. The singing of “My Old Kentucky Home”

It’s unclear when this tradition began – it may have been as early as 1921 or as late as 1930.

Regardless, hundreds of thousands stand in unison to sing what is now Kentucky’s state song during the post parade, as the horses make their way to their gates.

You can watch a video of the singing of “My Old Kentucky Home” from the 2018 Kentucky Derby here >


9. The horse names

The race that has given us Seabiscuit, Secretariat, and Justify brings us Grey Magician, Maximum Security, Master Fencer, Long Range Toddy, and more this year. Sometimes your favourite horse name is as good a reason as any to make a wager.


10. The iconic twin spires

Jeff Moreland/Icon SMI/Corbis/Getty Images

The spires were built in 1895 as an expanded grandstand at the track. They have since become the iconic symbol of Churchill Downs.

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Kentucky Derby


11. The infield seating

Rob Carr/Getty Images

People looking to party at the Kentucky Derby might want to pursue the cheapest seating available, the infield of the track, which doesn’t have seating at all. There are some benches, but is otherwise standing room only, and often the biggest party scene at Churchill Downs. At the time of this writing, tickets for the infield were going for $US138 and more on the resale market.


12. The luxurious experience

Jeff Gentner/Getty Images

Unlike the Masters, tickets to the Kentucky Derby are relatively accessible, but you have to be willing to pay a lot for a comfortable day.

For visitors who don’t want to stand in the infield, there are bleachers, box seats, suites, and more in different parts of the grandstand. At the time of this writing, bleacher seats were starting at about $US400 a ticket on the resale market, while those with some shade were going for $US1,600 or more per ticket.

Then there is the true, upscale experience. It’s no coincidence there is one section called “Millionaire’s Row.” Tickets for the various clubs and suites cost in the thousands. Want a table in one of the lounges, with a chef’s buffet, private balcony, and more at the Triple Crown Room? Be prepared to pay $US21,000, or more, per seat for your reservation.


13. The rose garland

Matt Goins/Lexington Herald-Leader/MCT/Getty Images

Kentucky Derby’s version of the green jacket, Lombardi Trophy, Stanley Cup, etc. (though it does also come with a trophy) is the garland of roses given to the winning horse and jockey. Made from over 400 roses, the tradition began in 1896.


14. The massive purse

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Kentucky Derby purse is $US2 million. That’s what Tiger Woods received for winning the Masters this year. Victor Espinoza, the jockey who won the Triple Crown on American Pharoah in 2015, has $US198 million in career winnings, according to American’s Best Racing.

There is a lot of money on the line in those two minutes.


Now, figure out who you will bet on at this year’s derby…

Kentucky Derby 2019: Post positions and odds for the first race of the Triple Crown >

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