Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark was a big dreamer. After visiting prominent race tracks all over the globe, he took inspiration from them, and returned to his old Kentucky Home to lay a track of his own.
The first layout of Churchill Downs began in 1789, but it wasn’t officially completed until 1875 when Clark pulled it together, and named the formal opening and introduced three races on May 17th 1875. The Kentucky Derby, The Kentucky Oaks, and the Clark Handicap were born. A crowd reaching 10,000 spectators witnessed the fifteen thoroughbreds run the first 1.5 mile long Kentucky Derby. Aristides’ victory launched a tradition that has been held continuously at Churchill Downs annually since their debut in 1875. The Clark Handicap eventually got bumped from that roster to be held in late November/early December annually, while the Derby and the Oaks are now celebrated on the first Saturday in May every year.
Everyone remembers the Twin Spires on Derby day, but there are another 364 perfectly good (albeit rainy when we visited) days to explore and enjoy the legendary racing venue. We toured the track a few years ago. The facility features a museum of the track’s history, as well as offers tours of the track and spectator areas. The Louisville area alone is home to many great tourist attractions, it’s easy to plan a full weekend visit or longer if you have the time.
I think every horseperson has a trip to the Derby on their bucket list, I know I do, but you need to take the time when it isn’t an ocean of humanity to see it up close and appreciate it’s quiet splendor. Here are some photos I dug up from our trip to show you a little more…