By Kevin Kerstein, Communications Specialist, Churchill Downs Racetrack
People from across the world attend The Kentucky Derby, not just to watch the world’s greatest racehorses in action, but for the food, wagering and spectacle of the Derby. That’s a lot of people to feed and entertain. But, how much goes on behind the scenes to put on the “greatest 2 minutes in sports?”
Food and Drink
Between Oaks and Derby, Churchill Downs will serve more than 127,000 mint juleps that require 475,000 pounds of shaved ice; 2,250 pounds of locally-grown mint; and 5,000 liters of bourbon. Not a mint julep fan? Don’t worry; the Oaks Lily (my personal favorite) has a fruity kick to ease your taste buds. And, more than 40,000 will be sold over Kentucky Derby Weekend.
Who doesn’t like a hot dog? Last year at the world’s famous Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest held on Coney Island in New York, professional eater Joey Chestnut consumed 70 hot dogs. That’s nothing compared to the 163,000 hot dogs consumed at last year’s Kentucky Derby. If hot dogs aren’t your thing, we have you covered with 22,000 barbecue sandwiches, 14,000 pounds of chicken and 11,000 pounds of turkey.
If your tickets are in a premium dining areas for this year’s Derby, you’ll get to indulge in 11,000 pounds of New York Strip loin and more than 43,000 jumbo shrimp. What’s for dessert? Churchill Downs’ Executive Chef David Danielson will use over more than 9,400 sticks of butter and 2,600 gallons of dairy cream to bake the sweetest desserts around. They’ll include 395,000 fresh berries standing alongside 49,000 Derby Pies.
People and Record Holders
When fans arrive at the historic racetrack, more than 11,500 Churchill Downs staff will be there to greet them, put a drink in their hand and take their bets.
It’s not just fans and staff the bring Derby week to life. More than, 2,000 members of the media from around the world scramble throughout the track to capture the horses, racing and spectacle that make it “The Greatest 2 Minutes in Sports.”
People of all ages have been a part of Derby’s rich racing history. Frances A. Genter owned Unbridled and won the 116th Kentucky Derby in 1990; she was 92. Bill Shoemaker, one of the greatest jockeys in Kentucky Derby history, won the 1986 Kentucky Derby at the age of 54. Trainer James Rowe Sr. won the Kentucky Derby with Hindoo in 1881 when he was only 24. Jockey Alonzo “Lonnie” Clayton won the 1892 Derby aboard Azra at the tender age of 15.
Owner Colonel E.R. Bradley set the record for having the most horses run in the Kentucky Derby with 28 starters. However, it’s Calumet Farm that holds the real prize for owners. Eight of his thoroughbreds have won the Kentucky Derby. Derby’s winningest jockeys are Bill Hartack and Eddie Arcaro, who each won five times while Ben Jones trained a record of Kentucky Derby winners.
Since 2009, Churchill Downs has distributed more than $700,000 in funds to breast and ovarian cancer awareness through the Kentucky Oaks Day Pink Out initiative. It has also contributed more than $200,000 to hunger relief locally and around the country through Taste of Derby, held each year on Thursday of Derby Week.
The real reason everyone comes to the Kentucky Derby is for the horses. Every year, 20 horses enter the starting gate to run in the Kentucky Derby. In 1974, after a few owners filed a lawsuit challenging the then-unofficial rule, 23 horses ran in the Derby. (The official rule of 20 horses was put into play the following year.) Forty fillies have raced in the Kentucky Derby since 1875, but only 3 have won: Regret (1915), Genuine Risk (1980) and Winning Colors (1988). Of the 142 Kentucky Derby winners, 107 were born in Kentucky and 11 were father-son duos. The most recent was Grindstone in 1996, whose father Unbridled won the Kentucky Derby in 1990.
My favorite part about coming to the track is making a bet. We have plenty of pari-mutuel employees to take your wagers – 1,200 to be exact. More than $190 million will be wagered on Derby day, including $130 million alone on the Kentucky Derby. In 2015, more than $154 million was paid to customers with winning tickets on the Kentucky Derby.
Do you like to bet on the longshot? Donarail, winner of the 1913 Kentucky Derby, still holds the record for the highest $2 win payoff on the Kentucky Derby ($184.90). Donarail was such a longshot that even his owner refused to bet on him to win! Fifty-five favorites have won the Kentucky Derby, including in the last four years: Orb (2013), California Chrome (2014), American Pharoah (2015) and Nyquist (2016).
A lot of people ask, “What type of bet should I make to win the most money?” By betting a superfecta, you’ll have to pick the top 4 finishers, in a row, to win the bet. In 2005, the winning superfecta on the Kentucky Derby paid $864,253.40. Cha-ching!
Knock on wood, we’ve been lucky the last couple of years with the weather for the Kentucky Derby. With the average high temperature of 75 degrees on the first Saturday in May, we always expect it to be a perfect day outside. Sometimes, Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate. In 1957, the high temp was 47 degrees accompanied by 20 to 25 mph winds, while sleet and snow flurries fell prior to the running of the 1989 Kentucky Derby. In 2012, almost 1.5 inches of rain fell on Derby Day, which was nothing compared to the 2.31 inches of rain that drenched the running of the Kentucky Derby in 1918!
The Kentucky Derby is the longest, continuously running sports event in North American history. The numbers above are staggering but will keep growing as the Derby continues to cultivate the world’s stage.
For the latest race information, leaderboard updates and much more, visit KentuckyDerby.com.