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Many brown and black thoroughbred horses race with jockeys riding them.

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Seven Surprising Things About the Kentucky Derby & Where Else to See The Horses

There is no season in Louisville, Kentucky quite like Kentucky Derby season. From when the horse races first start at Churchill Downs in April, to when they end in early July, Louisville is abuzz with folks hoping to visit the twin spires, sip a mint julep, and hope they’re betting on the right horse. The Kentucky Derby has a rich and fascinating history— so saddle up as we share seven surprising facts about the “greatest two minutes in sports” plus some local horse farms you may enjoy visiting. And, as usual, we’ll make sure we finish this off with a bourbon recipe you’re sure to fall in love with!

Headshot of a brown horse with a black mane and brown leather bridle with brass loop accents.

1. Must be three to enter. Many people are surprised to learn that the thoroughbreds who compete in the Kentucky Derby have an age requirement— they must be three years old by the first Saturday in May. While the thoroughbreds may compete in other races prior to the Derby, they only get one shot to compete in the Kentucky Derby races. 

This is why you will never find a statistic about the horse that has won the derby the most times. You will, however, find that jockeys may compete year after year, with Eddie Arcaro and Bill Hartack tying for the most Kentucky Derby wins with five each.

2. Age is but a number for jockeys. Unlike the thoroughbreds, there are no age requirements for jockeys. The Kentucky Derby’s oldest winning jockey was Bill Shoemaker. He was 54 years old when he won while riding Ferdinand in 1986. There’s a tie for the youngest Derby-winning jockeys, with Alonzo Clayton and James Perkins both taking the title at the age of 15. Clayton won in 1892 riding a horse named Azra and Perkins won in 1895. Today, most states have set 16 as the minimum age for a person to apprentice themself as a jockey. There is no maximum age limit. 

Six brown horses with jockeys racing out of the gate on a sandy track.

3. A great return on investment. Betting is an exciting part of horse racing at Churchill Downs. The Derby horse who is the biggest long shot in history to win the race is one named Donerail. Back in 1913, Donerail had 91-1 odds to cross first out of the eight competing horses. Those lucky betters who put $2 on Donerail walked (or skipped) away with $184.90 in their pockets. That’s the equivalent of approximately $5,977 dollars today. Not a bad day at the races!

4. The Derby doesn’t come cheap. There’s a rather high cost to attend the greatest two minutes in sports. Tickets in 2024 start at $650 for reserved seating at Churchill Downs. Meanwhile the General Admission tickets, which are standing-room-only, start at $275. If you extrapolated those prices to an hourly rate for the race itself, that would be $19,500/hour or $8,250/hour. Fortunately, the race is only about two minutes and participants derive so much additional enjoyment out of the day, both before and after the race.

5. The Kentucky Derby is a part of Black History. The majority of the jockeys who raced in the Kentucky Derby during its initial years were predominantly African Americans. At the first Kentucky Derby race, which took place in 1875, 13 of the 15 jockeys who competed were black and were important members of the farm communities who raised and trained the horses. It wasn’t until Isaac Murphy, who has an unmatched win record of 44%, began commanding a salary for his work and paving the way for a black middle class, that black jockeys (including Murphy) began being excluded from races. Collusion between thoroughbred owners, white jockeys, and white trainers created ways to keep black jockeys out of races or put them in physical danger during races. You can learn more about Isaac Murphy and the Kentucky Derby in the book, “The Prince of Jockeys: The Life of Isaac Burns Murphy” by Pellom McDaniels.

A fancy blue, wide-brimmed woman's hat with a large blue bow for the Kentucky Derby

6. No girls allowed. It took until 1970 until a woman was allowed to compete in the Kentucky Derby. Diane Crump, a self-taught rider from Florida, required armed guards to escort her to her first ever race in Hialeah in 1969. The following year she competed at Churchill Downs. While Crump didn’t win that day while riding Dust Commander, her participation inspired women and paved the way for future female jockeys.  

7. Kentucky is for winners. Perhaps it’s not a surprising fact, but the state where the most Derby champions have been born is… you guessed it… Kentucky. With 113 Derby winners to date,  Kentucky largely overshadows the next winningest states of Florida (6), Virginia (4), California (4), and Tennessee (4). Two winners were British-born and two were Canadian. If you’re a thoroughbred-lover and want to visit some local farms to learn more about the care of these incredible creatures, we recommend Oldham Farm Tours, Stonehurst Riding Center, and Hermitage Farm.

Rolling grass hills of Kentucky with a wooden fence and tree in the distance.

Even if you can’t (or choose not to) visit Louisville, Kentucky during Derby weekend, it doesn’t mean that you cannot partake in fun of the day. Here is one of our favorite bourbon-inspired recipes that we love to whip up for the big race. Just don’t get any food on your seersucker suit or fancy dress!

Evan Williams Mini Steak and Bacon Tacos

Courtesy of Byron White, Winner of the Evan Williams Annual Cooking Contest, Kentucky State Fair 2011


2 cups cooking oil

20 wonton wrappers

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

¼ cup Evan Williams Bourbon

2 tablespoon firmly packed light brown sugar

8 ounces center-cut bacon

1 pound skillet steak

4 ounces Camembert cheese, cut into 1/3-inch slices

1 cup baby arugula


In a large saucepan, heat cooking oil over medium-high heat. Place a wonton wrapper in oil. using two wooden spoons to push lightly down into oil. Let cook slightly before removing spoons to obtain taco shape. Repeat with remaining wonton wrappers. Set aside.

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook until they begin to brown, about 8 minutes. Add balsamic vinegar, bourbon and brown sugar. Stir and reduce heat to low. Cook for 25 minutes. Let cool.

In a heavy skillet, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove all but 2 teaspoons bacon drippings from pan. Increase heat and add steak. Cook for two to three minutes per side.

Slice steak into ½-inch thick slices. Tear bacon into bite-size pieces. Fill taco shells with steak, Camembert, bacon, bourbon onions and arugula. Enjoy with a shot of Evan Williams Bourbon.

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