Today marks the 149th anniversary of the Kentucky Derby, which brings with it all the history and pageantry (mint julep, fancy hats, anyone?) spectators and participants alike have grown accustomed to at Churchill Downs racetrack in Louisville, Ky. Traditionally held the first Saturday in May, the Derby is the longest running sporting event in the U.S., dating back to 1875. It also makes up one third of the coveted Triple Crown along with the Belmont Stakes and the Preakness Stakes.

In and around the host city of Louisville, the Derby carries with it a long and rich history that dates back to 1872, when Meriwether Lewis Clark, the grandson of William Clark, traveled to Europe. While there, Clark attended the Epsom Derby in England, a well-known horse race run since 1780. Clark was inspired by his travels and experiences, and, upon his return, was determined to create a spectacle horse racing event in the U.S.

With the help of his uncles John and Henry Churchill, who gifted Clark the necessary land to develop a racetrack, and by formally organizing a group of local race fans to be named the Louisville Jockey Club, Clark and his new club raised funds to build a permanent racetrack in Louisville.

On May 17, 1875, the racetrack opened its gates and the Louisville Jockey Club sponsored the very first Kentucky Derby. A total of 15 three-year-old thoroughbred horses raced one and a half miles in front of a crowd of approximately 10,000 spectators. Aristides was the first winner of the Kentucky Derby.

These days, the week leading up to the Kentucky Derby is one of celebration and can be a boon for many local businesses, including eyecare professionals and optical retailers. In 2022, Kenmark Eyewear of Louisville celebrated its 50th anniversary throughout the year with a variety of giveaways on social media, special events, promotions, incentives, donation efforts and more. The largest giveaway was two tickets to this year’s Kentucky Derby for one lucky winner, as well as $2,000 for flights and hotel accommodations.

The winner of the Kenmark Eyewear ticket giveaway to the 2023 Kentucky Derby is Jennifer Griggs, who worked at Briggs Vision Group in Duluth, Ga. at the time she won the contest.

“Sometime last year, I was checking my work emails and came across this Kentucky Derby contest. I decided to enter, thinking that I would never win,” said Griggs. “But, to my surprise, I had actually won. I never win anything. Best surprise ever! I have never been to the Kentucky Derby before. But, thanks to Kenmark, my husband and I are very excited to experience it. I am definitely looking forward to seeing the amazing horses and all of the fabulous outfits and hats.”

She said, “I have been in the optical world for over 17 years as an optician, buyer, and lab manager. Eye health is extremely important when it comes to large sporting events, especially those outside. Wearing polarized sunglasses at outdoor events will definitely help to protect the eyes from harmful UV rays.”

Kenmark Eyewear CEO, Michelle Clark, third from right, with regional sales managers (l to r) Joe Detorre, Jason McGregor, Carla White, Delana Chipman, Cliff Woodward and Pat Gantt meeting the jockeys and horses while attending a sales meeting at Churchill Downs on May 21, 2022.
At the company's sales meeting, Steve Mount (far left), Kenmark Eyewear VP of sales, VP of sales development Tina Crawford (third from left) and sales consultants (l to r) Dave Tobin, Drew Pietenpol, Sarah Willis, Gina Reid, Jo Dell Oaks, Brian Winslow, Nicki Lillegraven and Barry Kemmis enjoying the first look at the horses before preparing for the race.
Kenmark Eyewear VP of sales Steve Mount (l) and Barry Kemmis, sales consultant, enjoy the sights and sounds of Churchill Downs at the company's sales meeting.

Derby Week 2023 events include Opening Night, where attendees preview Kentucky Derby trends with a fashion preview from Rodes For Him & For Her, experience artistic creations from KMAC Couture designers, gain style tips from featured Kentucky Derby Milliners and enjoy an evening of racing.

Dawn at the Downs allows visitors to see the Kentucky Derby contenders train for the big race, while listening to expert commentary. Champions Day is a celebration of thoroughbred racing history. Champions Day 2023 commemorates the 50th anniversary of Secretariat’s Triple Crown win.

And of course, May 6 is the day of the big race. Here are some more fun facts about the Kentucky Derby:

  • In 1939, the mint julep became the official drink of the Kentucky Derby, the same year that they began to be sold in collector cups, a tradition which remains to this day. Each year, almost 120,000 mint juleps are served over the two-day period of Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby weekend at Churchill Downs Racetrack.

  • The rose garland, now synonymous with the Kentucky Derby, is the source of the nickname "Run for the Roses" and has a history almost as long as the Derby itself. The rose garland first appeared in 1896 when the winner, Ben Brush, received a floral arrangement of white and pink roses.

  • The long-established fashion of wearing extravagant hats was started with Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr.'s vision for the Derby as an event that the high-class would attend, similar to European-style racing events, which mandated full morning dress for men and women.

  • Although there is no definitive history on the playing of the Stephen Foster ballad “My Old Kentucky Home” as a Derby Day tradition, it is believed to have originated in 1921 for the 47th running.

  • Constructed in 1895, the Twin Spires were the creation of a 24-year-old draftsman, Joseph Dominic Baldez, who was asked to draw the blueprints for Churchill Downs' new grandstand.

  • On average, spectators attending the Kentucky Derby will consume 142,000 hot dogs, 18,000 barbecue sandwiches, 13,800 pounds of beef, 32,400 jumbo shrimp, 9,000 scallops, 8,000 pounds of potatoes, 30,000 cookies and 300,000 strawberries.

  • Only 3-year-old horses are eligible to run in the Kentucky Derby.

  • The race has never been canceled or postponed due to inclement weather.

  • Only three fillies have won the Kentucky Derby; the most recent being “Winning Colors” in 1988.

  • Secretariat holds the record for the fastest time in Kentucky Derby history for his 1:59.40 run to the winner’s circle in 1973.

  • The first jockey to win a Kentucky Derby was Oliver Lewis.

  • The current purse for the Kentucky Derby is $3 million.