Churchill Downs, Kentucky

Day 791

     Churchill Downs, Kentucky, is the home of the Kentucky Derby. The Churchills were one of Kentucky’s first families, having purchased 300 acres of land here in 1785.

     Born in Louisville, Kentucky, on January 27, 1846, Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr. (grandson of explorer William Clark of Lewis & Clark fame) moved to his mother’s estate, as she died shortly after giving birth. His two bachelor uncles, John Churchill and Henry Churchill, helped raise the boy,

     After traveling to Europe and witnessing horse racing there, he returned to Louisville and asked his uncles for land to build a racing track. Clark was then founder and president of the Louisville Jockey Club.

     The new track opened to the public on May 17, 1875 with the running of the first Kentucky Derby. The track is named for John and Henry Churchill. The dirt oval track built on that land is the same on that still bears his uncles’ name today.

     The term downs comes from Great Britain and Ireland where around the year 1500, horse races were held on grassy plains before formal race tracks were built. These grassy areas were known as downs.

     That first Derby race was won by the horse Aristides, who won $2,850. Compared to the winner of this year’s Derby, 144 year later, Justify, who won $1,432,000.

     Wasn’t he once black? Actually, most of the jockeys in the late 1800’s were black, including the jockey that rode Aristides to victory.

     This is the first electric starting gate used at Churchill Downs.

     I beat the horse, as he never left the gate.

     We went to the races today. The track was “sloppy”, but it looked muddy to me.

     Barbara studied the racing forms.

     She considered the number of races each horse ran this year and last and compared that to the number of wins. She considered the pedigree of the horse, it’s sire, how the horse ran on different tracks, the trainer’s experience, and the jockey’s ability. Then she bet on the horse that had the prettiest colors.

     It must have worked, as she doubled her money.

     And they are off:

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