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Kentucky Derby - Horse Racing's Main Event
Despite the splintered tastes of modern times, there is still at least one event in the United States that continues to transcend its inherent reach. The Kentucky Derby, contested on the first Saturday in May for every year since 1875, continues to be a uniting fixture for Americans. The horse race reflects not only what once was in the United States, but perhaps most importantly, what still is.
Like the United States itself, the Kentucky Derby was spawned from British doings.
Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr., the grandson of the famed Lewis and Clark explorer William Clark, devised the Kentucky Derby as an answer to England's Epsom Derby, a 1½-mile race for 3-year-old Thoroughbreds run over grass every spring since 1780. Clark Jr. hailed from Louisville, Ky., a region at the time of his 1872 visit to England that was already renowned for producing top-class racehorses.
When Clark returned to the United States, he took all necessary steps to build a racetrack in his hometown of Louisville. It would become known as Churchill Downs and would provide America's answer to Britain's Epsom Derby.
Churchill Downs opened for business on May 17, 1875 with a four race program. The feature race that day, the Kentucky Derby, would be won by Aristides. A statue of Aristides now sits in the Churchill Downs' paddock as an acknowledgment to the first Kentucky Derby winner. Imagine owning a virtual race horse that can compete against the best virtual horses in the world including the virtual Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown champions. Own your own virtual horse.
Since that first running, the Kentucky Derby has become an American institution. One that has more than matched Clark's adventurous imagination.
Many factors have helped to contribute to the longstanding attraction of the Kentucky Derby. From a sporting perspective, perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the Derby is the fact it is only open to Thoroughbreds 3 years of age. There is just one opportunity for a horse to make the Kentucky Derby.
Each year, 25,000+ Thoroughbreds are born worldwide and properly registered with appropriate agencies that make them eligible to be racehorses. Many in that crop will never make the racetrack.
Others, however,will rise to the top of their generation through the abilities of speed, strength, durability and class.
Winning the Kentucky Derby is the ultimate goal of everyone involved in the sport, from the owners and breeders that pay the bills, to the trainers and jockeys tasked with bringing out the best in a particular horse.
Each season, a new crop of 2-year-old Thoroughbreds arrive at racetracks around the country from the various horse farms, largely in Kentucky, Florida, New York and California, where they are raised, taught to carry a rider, and ultimately shown the basics of running on a racetrack.
Upon their arrival at their new homes on the racetrack, these young 2-year-olds will begin with simple gallops each morning to build conditioning. Gradually, they will be asked to go faster and at longer distances. It's during this time that each horse begins to separate themselves in the minds of their respective handlers. Those with above-average ability will be tabbed as potential candidates for the following year's Kentucky Derby and handled accordingly. If they are able to confirm that ability in their first few races, then the long road to Churchill Downs begins.
Horses earn their way to the Kentucky Derby by competing in a series of graded stakes races, beginning in their 2-year-old season, held at racetracks around the country that lead all the way up to the first Saturday in May. Ultimately, only 20 horses are allowed to compete in the Kentucky Derby. In the event more than 20 horses want to participate, selections are based on the amount of money a horse earns in these graded stakes races.
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Some 2-year-olds will climb to the top of their generation in various summer and fall races held throughout the country. Then, in late fall, the cream of that crop will converge to run in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. The winner of the Juvenile will typically earn honors as the United States' champion 2-year-old colt-as well as the mantle as the early favorite for the Kentucky Derby.
On New Years' Day, all registered Thoroughbreds in the Northern Hemisphere turn one year older. The newly-turned 3-year-olds, hoping for a start in the Kentucky Derby and a run at Triple Crown immortality, become the focus of the entire racing world.
Trainers with potential Derby horses will begin to plot the best path for getting their horse to the race. Some candidates, often the ones that had extensive and productive juvenile campaigns, will make as few as two starts from Jan. 1 to the Kentucky Derby.
Virtually all the major tracks in the U.S. provide paths to the Derby, which consist of a series of three or four graded stakes races that gradually increase in distance. It becomes the trainer's job to figure out how to get his horse enough earnings to qualify, as well as the proper seasoning for a race as competitive as the Kentucky Derby. It takes expert horsemanship for a trainer to accomplish those challenges while ensuring his horse will be at his absolute best on Derby day. If a horse is asked to run in too many tough and competitive prep races in the lead-up to the 1 1/4-mile Run for the Roses, then he may not have enough left to produce a big effort on the big day.
The final major round of prep races are typically held from four to six weeks out from the Kentucky Derby and are run at 1⅛-miles, a furlong shorter than the main event. These races consist of the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park; the Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct; the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park; the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds; and the Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita Park.
The 1¼-mile distance of the Kentucky Derby is another of the more intriguing aspects of America's greatest horse race. None of the contestants will have ever run that distance prior to the Kentucky Derby. A major part of identifying a true Derby contender is determining if he can answer the distance question. Pedigree and running style are often the best indicators that a horse can win at the lung-expanding distance of a mile-and-a-quarter.
Prepping for our virtual Kentucky Derby is just as exciting as if you actually had a contender racing in the actual first leg of the Triple Crown. Breeding, naming, training and then racing your virtual horse and right up to our Triple Crown series is one of the most exciting events you'll experience. Breed, name and train your free first horse right now.
For the connections of the horses fortunate enough to make the Kentucky Derby, the first Saturday in May in Louisville, Ky. can be sublime. The history and traditions of the Kentucky Derby date back over a century and remain largely intact.
Among those traditions are huge crowds. At the 2011 Kentucky Derby, a record 163,628 were in attendance. For fans, the Kentucky Derby experience could include such options as a rambunctious afternoon in the infield or a more stately experience in the Club House.
For those with a horse in the race, Derby day is typically best remembered for the walkover owners and trainers make with their horses from the stable area on the Churchill Downs' backstretch, along the clubhouse turn, to the saddling paddock.
The other longstanding tradition of the Kentucky Derby is the playing and singing of "My Old Kentucky Home" during the post parade.
Finally, when the gates are loaded and the horses finally sent on their way, "the most exciting two minutes in sports" will provide horse racing with its newest star.
The winner of the Kentucky Derby will be faced with the challenge of sweeping the Triple Crown, which continues two weeks after the Derby with the 1 3/16-miles Preakness Stakes at Pimlico and concludes three weeks later with the 1½-mile Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park in New York.
There have been just 11 Triple Crown winners in the history of the series. The first was Sir Barton in 1919 and the last was Affirmed in 1978. The current stretch without a Triple Crown winner is the longest in the history of the sport.
Imagine owning your own horse without investing hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of dollars. In fact, you can breed and train virtual horses for free and still win amazing prizes when competing in races in addition to the prestigious virtual Kentucky Derby and the other two major Triple Crown races. Breed your first champion horse now for free.