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The First of the Triple Crown - The Kentucky Derby

Updated on May 2, 2014

Every May

Every year a great tradition is carried out in Kentucky. Even those that do not follow horse racing on a weekly or monthly basis, still tune into watching this event unfold each year. This event each year gives us triumphs, failures, tragedy and moments that bring a smile on your face years later when thinking about this race. What got me hooked on watching the Kentucky Derby and would inspire me to closely follow the next two races to see who would be the next Triple Crown Winner was Big Red. Others will remember him as Secretariat the horse that would break records that still stand today. So for me my love affair with the Kentucky Derby started then and has continued. Like others that recall the year 1973, we are waiting for another Secretariat, which I know will never happen. There have been some great stories along the way, those that were inspiring and some with sadness. Each year we tune in or even better; to be there in the stands every year in May. Sip on your Mint Julep and Welcome to the Kentucky Derby!

Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby.
Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby.

The Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby is one of the oldest Thoroughbred horse races in the US. The first Kentucky Derby was run in 1875 and at that time the course was 1.5 miles long. In 1876 the length was shortened to 1.25 and this distance has been run since by three year old Thoroughbreds. It wasn’t until the 1900’s that winners of the Derby would enter their horses in the Preakness and the Belmont. It would soon be titled the “Triple Crown” and the few that would go on to win all three races would be called a Triple Crown winner. Each year the Kentucky Derby draws about 100,000 spectators to Churchill Downs to watch the famed race and countless others will watch it on TV. The history of Churchill Downs goes back to the late 1800’s and was started by Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark.

With great triumphs there are tragedies and the Kentucky Derby has had it's share. Winning moments that are over shadowed by events that linger well after the race. One just has to go back to 2008 as runner up Eight Belles, the filly that almost won, broke down after the race. As we watched the jockey jump off and the ambulance, along with other vehicles blocked our view we all knew it wasn't good. Controversy will always surround horse racing and what is done to achieve greatness.

Triple Crown Winners

War Admiral
War Admiral
Affirmed, the last Triple Crown Winner.
Affirmed, the last Triple Crown Winner.

Derby to Triple Crown

The elusive Triple Crown has been won by only 11 horses and Sir Barton was foaled in 1916 and won the frist Triple Crown Winner in 1919. 45 horses would win two out of the three races with 21 winning the first two but failing to capture the third.

Triple Crown Winners

Sir Barton 1919

Gallant Fox 1930

Omaha 1935

War Admiral 1937*

Whirlaway 1941

Count Fleet 1943

Assault 1946

Citation 1948

Secretariat 1973

Seattle Slew 1977

Affirmed 1978

One would have to say that we are due for another Triple Crown winner and each year we watch. For me this will be another year of watching and hoping one horse will emerge as victorious. Maybe some 12 year old girl will watch and she will be forever hooked waiting for it to happen again. I have seen it happen three times since first watching Secretariat take the crown in 1973 and it is a moment in time that will always stick with me. He is the epitome of what a great race horse should be, big, beautiful, proud, graceful and powerful. The Kentucky Derby is held the first weekend in May.

Read about Secretariat and watch the clip of his great win at the Belmont.

*Note: War Admiral would loose a match race to Seabiscuit in 1938.

If you watch the YouTube clip of Secretariat's Kentucky Derby win, make note of where he is in the first part of the race. It is one of the greatest finishes in racing history.

Official Churchill Downs Website


Churchill Downs:
700 Central Avenue, Louisville, KY 40208, USA

get directions

The location of Churchill Downs in Louisville, KY.

Affirmed in 1978 the last Triple Crown winner.


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      7 years ago

      I'm not trying to be rude in anyway but i just wanted to say that Sir Barton won the Triple Crown in 1919. He was foaled in 1916. Common Error. Its hard to remember all the numbers and years. I got into horse racing this year and was thrilled to watch the Derby! I was going for Dialed In but as everyone saw, he slumped, big time! I did a lot better in the Preakness pikcing the top six finishers (I LOVE Shackleford! He's my favorite current racehorse!) I think next year Overdriven is going to be a huge factor in the Derby if he's entered. Currency Swap, Union Rags, and Drill are also good conforming two-year-olds this year. Can't wait for Derby 138!


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