Churchill Downs Racetrack
Churchill Downs, located in Louisville, Kentucky is the most famous racetrack in the United States and possibly the entire world. The main reason is that every year on the first Saturday in May (with the lone exception in 2020 because of a pandemic when the Derby will run in September), the Kentucky Derby is run.
This major race follows another slightly lesser-known race on Friday before the Derby, The Kentucky Oaks, a historic annual event.
Churchill Downs Racing Season
Churchill Downs is typically open for racing for two meets annually. The first from May through June (known as the Spring meet), and the second from September or October through November (the Fall meet). Races at Churchill Downs are filled with horses and trainers running most of the year in the midwest. Races are conducted on both the dirt and the turf course.
Since Kentucky is the thoroughbred breeding capital of North America, with some of the most prestigious farms located just 1 hour away in Lexington, you will see many Kentucky bred horses compete at every level.
This is especially true for the 2-year old’s in the spring. Kentucky offers a sizable added bonus to their purse structure if you own a Kentucky bred, which provides an added incentive to run your horse in that state at Churchill Downs.
Churchill Downs Stake Races
The Kentucky Derby and the Kentucky Oaks are both races for 3-year old’s. The Derby is for colts and geldings and the Oaks for fillies. It is the first time that horses in both those races will be asked to test their stamina, stretching out to 1 ¼ mile for the first time in their career and possibly the last time they will be asked to run this far.
Attendance to the Kentucky Derby can reach over 170,000 people. Churchill opens the infield for Oaks and Derby, which allows even more people to attend. Most of the infield is occupied by younger people who can enjoy live music and many other festivities.
Churchill Downs Park Track History
The track was opened in 1875 and is built on 80 acres of land. It is named after John and Henry Churchill, who purchased the plot. However, it is their nephew Samuel Churchill who was largely responsible for opening the track.
The track saw early success with its two competing racetracks – Woodlawn and Oakland having just closed. Churchill Downs helped fill the void and pick up many of the regular racegoers from the now-defunct venues.
In 1894, the track was sold to a syndicate led by the bookmaker and thoroughbred horse-breeder William Applegate. He commissioned a new grandstand to be built, and several track upgrades, many of which are still present today. He also began the tradition of draping the winner of the Kentucky Derby in a garland of roses in 1896, and this has remained in place ever since.
Charles Grainger, who was mayor of Louisville, took over the day-to-day operations at the track, and he helped raise the venue’s profile. By the early part of the 20th century, the Kentucky Derby had become the most prominent stakes race for three-year-olds in North America.
As of 1986, the track became a National Historic Landmark, and it continues to attract a worldwide audience. This is likely due to its proximity to Lexington, Kentucky, known as the world’s thoroughbred capital. The Kentucky Derby remains one of the most popular sports events, known as “The Greatest Two Minutes in Sports.”
In 1988, Churchill Downs hosted the Breeders Cup for the first time. It staged the high-profile event for the second time in 1991. In 2018, Churchill Downs was chosen to host the Breeders Cup for a ninth time, tying it with Santa Anita Park. However, the California venue will stage the 2019 event later this year.
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