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The Ultimate Guide for the 2017 Kentucky Derby

Updated on March 13, 2017
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Andrew is a freelance writer and substitute teacher from Redwood City. He has a B.A. in Literature from San Francisco State.

Saturday, May 6, 2017 will be the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby. “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports” takes place in Louisville, Kentucky at the historic Churchill Downs Racetrack. With a $2 million purse and an expected attendance of over 150,000 people, there will be a lot of thrills and excitement as 20 three-year-old Thoroughbred horses run the 1 1/4 miles (10 furlongs) distance of the race on a dirt racetrack. The Kentucky Derby is the first race in the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing, with the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes following it.

The Kentucky Derby’s History

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This iconic horse race began 1875, on May 17th. Even during two world wars and the Great Depression, “The Run for the Roses” was never interrupted. Steeped in rich traditions of pageantry and Southern culture – big, brimmed hats, mint juleps in frosty tin cups, and spectators singing “My One Kentucky Home” on a warm Louisville spring day – the Kentucky Derby has becoming a storied American sporting event.

Meriwether Lewis Clark, grandson of famous American explorer William Clark (of Lewis and Clark), started the Kentucky Derby after traveling to Europe and becoming enamored with horse racing. Collaborating with his uncles, John and Henry Churchill, who gave him the land for a racetrack, the first Derby was run at the Louisville Jockey Club in front of 10,000 people. Aristides, the first winner of the Derby, was ridden and trained by African American men.

When it comes to famous Derby winners, many come to mind: Seattle Slew. Affirmed. Unbridled. Barbaro. All are Triple Crown winners. The latest Triple Crown winner is American Pharoah (2015). The most famous Derby winner is Secretariat, the 1973 Triple Crown winner—winning each race in record time, records that still stand today.

One of the most unbelievable Derby finishes was in 2009. With 50-1 odds, Mine That Bird stunned the field by coming from last place and winning in the last few seconds of the race by 6 ¾ lengths.

The Road to the Kentucky Derby

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The Road to the Kentucky Derby consists of 35 prep races that take place across the U.S. and the world. The top 4 finishers from each race are awarded points, from 10 to 100 for first place. From those horses, the top 20 will qualify. The 2017 Derby Prep races began in mid-September, starting with the Iroquois race at Churchill Downs.

According to the Kentucky Derby expert picks, the following horses are the top contenders. Note that the races with higher points will be held starting in late March and throughout April, so the leaderboard will probably change by Derby Day.

  1. McCracken: Currently 11th on the leaderboard, this bay colt is trained by Ian Wilkes and is Kentucky-bred. He recently won the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, winning by a 1 ½ lengths.
  2. Classic Empire: This Kentucky-bred bay colt is currently listed as 6th on the leaderboard and is trained by Mark Casse. According to Casse, his next race will be the Blue Grass race in April after recovering from some health issues.
  3. Girvin: Trained by Joe Sharp, Girvin is a Kentucky-bred brown colt and is listed as 4th on the leaderboard. Girvin recently won in an upset at the Risen Star Stakes.
  4. American Anthem: This Kentucky-bred bay colt is currently 34th on the leaderboard and is trained by Bob Baffert. In January, he came in a very close second place showing at the Sham Stakes.
  5. Practical Joke: Currently 5th on the leaderboard, this Kentucky-bred, bay colt is trained by Chad Brown, recently placing second at the Fountain of Youth race.
  6. Gunnevera: Trained by Javier Castellano, this Kentucky-bred, chestnut colt is at the top of the leaderboard, recently winning the Fountain of Youth race at Gulfstream Park, rallying from last place and winning by 5 ¾ lengths.
  7. Tapwrit: Second on the leaderboard is the gray Kentucky-bred colt, Tapwrit, trained by Todd Pletcher, won the 2017 Tampa Bay Derby in record time for the race.
  8. Irish War Cry: Twentieth on the leaderboard is Irish War Cry, a New Jersey-bred chestnut colt, trained by Graham Motion. His most recent win was in the Holy Bull Stakes by 3 ¾ lengths.
  9. Iliad: Ranked 12th on the leaderboard is Iliad, a Kentucky-bred bay ridgling and trained by Doug O’Neill. Most recently, Iliad came in second place at the San Felipe Stakes.
  10. Gormley: A Kentucky-bred bay colt, trained by John Shirreffs, and is currently listed as 8th on the leaderboard, winner of the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita Parks.

Pick a Winner!

Who is Your Favorite to Win the 2017 Kentucky Derby?

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Remaining Derby Prep Races

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The Derby prep races that are left to run are the following (as of March 13th, 2017):

  • Rebel at Oaklawn Park (March 18th)
  • UAE Derby at Meydan Racecourse (March 25th)
  • Spiral at Turfway Park (March 25th)
  • Sunland Derby at Sunland Park (March 26th)
  • Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park (April 1st)
  • Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds (April 1st)
  • Wood Memorial at Aqueduct (April 8th)
  • Blue Grass at Keeneland (April 8th)
  • Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita Park (April 8th)
  • Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park (April 15th)
  • Lexington at Keeneland (April 15th)

Interesting Facts About the Kentucky Derby

Here are a few interesting facts about the Derby that you may not know:

  • The highest attendance to date was in 2015 when American Pharoah won (170,513).
  • Three fillies have won the Derby: Regret (1915), Genuine Risk (1980), and Winning Colors (1988).
  • Twelve Derby winners have gone on to win the Triple Crown.
  • 107 Kentucky Derby winners are Kentucky-bred.
  • The most popular color for winning horses is bay (53).
  • 127,000 Mint Juleps are made for Derby Day.
  • Calumet Farm has the most victories as a breeder (9) and owner (8).
  • “Plain Ben” Jones has won the most Kentucky Derby victories as a trainer (6).
  • Jockeys Eddie Arcaro and Bill Hartack are tied with the most Kentucky Derby victories (5).

Whether you travel to Louisville for the Derby, or you watch at home or your favorite bar with your family and friends, this year’s Derby will be an exciting one as the field shapes up over the next few weeks.

Great Moments in Kentucky Derby History

© 2017 Andrew Armstrong

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