A Londoner’s Guide to the Kentucky Derby: Understanding America’s Most Iconic Race

Horse racing has a rich history in America; one race that stands out is the Kentucky Derby. This event, held annually on the first Saturday in May, is a cultural phenomenon that attracts thousands of attendees worldwide. 

The Kentucky Derby is a horse’s ultimate speed and endurance test. And the opportunity to witness some of the world’s finest horses and jockeys competing in such an iconic race is genuinely unforgettable. Understanding its significance can be challenging for those who have never experienced the Derby.

But fear not. This guide will help you appreciate the Kentucky Derby and all it represents. So grab a mint julep, and let’s dive into the world of the Kentucky Derby.

History of the Kentucky Derby

The first Kentucky Derby was held on May 17, 1875, and was won by a horse named Aristides. The event was founded by Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr., the grandson of the famous explorer William Clark, who co-led the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

The Kentucky Derby quickly became one of the most popular sporting events in the United States, drawing large crowds and media attention. The race has been run every year since its inception, except for 2020, when it was postponed to September and held without spectators due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the years, the Kentucky Derby has produced many legendary horses and jockeys, including Secretariat, who set a record time of 1 minute, 59.4 seconds in 1973 that still stands today. Other notable winners include War Admiral, Seattle Slew, and American Pharoah.

The Kentucky Derby is the first leg of the Triple Crown horse racing series, including the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. The accomplishment of winning all three races is widely regarded as one of the most remarkable feats in the sport of horse racing and has only been attained by a total of 13 horses throughout history.

Understanding the Race

The Kentucky Derby is a Grade 1 Stakes race for three-year-old thoroughbreds. The iconic race covers a distance of 1 ¼ miles. The length of the race requires a unique combination of speed and endurance, making it a challenging test for both the horses and jockeys.

As we all know, track conditions can significantly affect the race’s outcome. The track is a dirt surface that is one mile in length and oval-shaped. The track’s dirt surface can vary depending on weather and maintenance. 

The track can become muddy when it rains, slowing down the horses and making running their best race more challenging.

Betting on the Kentucky Derby is a significant aspect of the event, and millions of dollars are wagered on the race each year. There are several ways to place a bet on the Kentucky Derby, including in-person at the track, online, or through a mobile betting app.

The odds for each horse can change based on betting patterns and how much money is wagered on each horse. For example, when you search FanDuel contenders 2023, you may find that the odds for certain horses have shifted since the initial release of the odds. 

It can happen due to various factors, such as changes in the horses’ training, injuries, or even the weather forecast on race day. That’s why staying updated on the latest odds and information leading up to the race is essential to make informed betting decisions.

Preparing for the Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby is known for its fashionable attire, and guests are encouraged to dress up for the event. Men typically wear seersucker suits, khakis, or dress pants paired with a blazer or sport coat, while women often opt for sundresses, hats, and heels. 

The big race is known for its signature drink, the mint julep, a mixture of bourbon, sugar, water, and mint served over crushed ice. In addition to the mint julep, many food and drink options are available at the event, including traditional southern fares such as fried chicken, hot browns, and bourbon balls.

Additionally, there are many parties, concerts, and other events throughout Louisville in the days leading up to the race. Planning travel and accommodations is vital for those travelling out of town. 

Louisville has many hotel options, but they can book up quickly during the Kentucky Derby weekend. Booking accommodations as early as possible ensures availability and reasonable prices.

After the race, there are many celebrations and parties throughout Louisville to continue the day’s excitement. Whether attending an official Derby party or exploring the local nightlife, there is no shortage of opportunities to celebrate the Kentucky Derby.


The Kentucky Derby is one of America’s most iconic and beloved events. For Londoners interested in attending the Kentucky Derby, it is a unique opportunity to witness American culture and history. 

With its exciting atmosphere, thrilling races, and unique traditions, the Kentucky Derby is an experience like no other. We encourage anyone interested in attending to make the trip and experience this iconic event for themselves.