Early in 1797, a company of gentlemen met at Postlethwait’s Tavern in downtown Lexington and organized Kentucky’s 1st Jockey Club. A track was built later that year on land, which is now the Lexington Cemetery. The Williams Race Track held meets there for the next 12 years.
July 23, 1826, the Kentucky Association Race Track (also known as the “Kentucky Racing Association”) was formed to promote the breeding and racing of thoroughbred horses in Kentucky. It was founded by a group of prominent locals including planter and politician Henry Clay, Jesse Bledsoe, Dr. Elisha Warfield and Thomas F. Marshall. Between 1828 and 1834, the Association acquired 65 acres of land in the city of Lexington, Kentucky that is today at the east end of 5th Street at Race Street. The Association built a one-mile dirt racetrack with a grandstand and stables to host thoroughbred flat racing events. Present day, it was located at the east end of 5th Street at Race Street in Lexington.
May 21, 1860, Woodlawn Race Course in Jefferson County held their first day of racing. Sometimes referred to as the “Saratoga of the West.” It was a track of major importance during the 1860s. Organized competitive horse racing in Kentucky was relatively young when Woodlawn Race Course was opened in 1859 on the east side of Louisville. Opening spring day of the track’s second season was crowded. The “Courier” noted that “the attendance was very large, including many of the first ladies of our city and state.” It also mentioned that “the course” was “in splendid condition.” A surviving remnant of Woodlawn Race Course is the Woodlawn Vase. Robert Atchison Alexander, noted owner of Woodburn Farm, commissioned Tiffany and Company to craft the trophy, which was first presented at Woodlawn in 1861. During the Civil War the trophy was buried on the racetrack grounds for safekeeping. It now serves as the model for half-size replicas given to the annual winner of the Preakness Stakes.
April 16, 1861, Isaac Burns Murphy was born near Frankfort. Issac was the first American jockey elected to Horse Racing’s Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, NY. He was one of two black jockeys (Willie Simms is the other) to have received this honor. Isaac Burns changed his last name to Murphy once he started racing horses as a tribute to his grandfather. Isaac’s first Kentucky Derby win came on May 27, 1884. and first jockey to win back to back derbies in 1890 and 1891. Murphy was the highest paid jockey in the United States at the time and lived in a mansion in Lexington. It is believed that Murphy was the first African American to own a racehorse. Video
November 3, 1863, Washington National Course, in Washington, DC, for the first time, raced thoroughbreds in splendid facilities.
Monday, May 17, 1875, 10,000 lucky fans witnessed the first Kentucky Derby run on a track later known as Churchill Downs. It was also the first day of racing for this new track. The distance was 1½ miles and was run in 2:37.75. Aristides, a small colt roughly 15 hands, won by two lengths over 14 other contestants. 14 of the 15 jockeys were African American including the winner Oliver Lewis. Ansel Williamson, who was born a slave, was the winning trainer. Hal Price McGrath, a native Kentuckian, owner of gambling parlors in NYC, owned and breed Aristides on his extravagant McGrathiana Farm, now known as UK’s Coldstream Farm. There were no roses for the winning connections but Mr. McGrath did win a purse of $2,850.
Wednesday, May 19, 1875, the first Kentucky Oaks was run at the Louisville Jockey Club later known as Churchill Downs. Vinaigrette won the then 1½ mile race in a time of 2:39¾, winning a purse of $1,175. The Oaks and the Derby are the oldest continuously contested sporting events in American history, and the only horse races to be held at their original site since their conception. The Kentucky Oaks was modeled after the English Oaks at Epsom Downs.
May 20, 1879, Lord Murphy won the 5th running of the Kentucky Derby. Run on a fast track with a field of nine horses, Lord Murphy was knocked almost to his knees by Ada Glenn on the first turn, but managed to pull himself up from 7th to 1st place at the mile marker to win over the fast approaching Falsetto. Lord Murphy was originally named Patmus and was a grandson of Lexington. He was owned by Geo. W. Darden & Co., trained by George Rice, ridden by Charlie Shauer and won the race in a record time of 2:37.00. Famed jockey Isaac Murphy finished second.
May 14, 1886, Ben Ali won the 12th Kentucky Derby in a record setting performance. This was a very controversial derby because James Ben Ali Haggin, the owner, could not place a large bet on his winning stallion. In 1886, C. M. White purchased the pooling privileges (wagering rights) for the Derby for $30,600 and demanded that all the Derby bookmakers pay him a $100 fee to operate at the track. The bookmakers refused to pay so there were no bookies to handle high-dollar bets. News traveled fast in the east coast and other horse racing circuits of Haggin’s ill treatment in Louisville causing many horsemen to boycott the Kentucky Derby during the 1890s and early 20th century. Bookmakers returned for the 1887 Derby but the damage was done; field quality and race profits reduced dramatically over the years until Churchill Downs was facing closure and sold to a syndicate led by Matt Winn in 1903.
June 25, 1890, Isaac Burns Murphy raced in the most memorable contest of his life. Matched against a white counterpart, jockey Ed “Snapper” Garrison; the race would settle the debate as to which rider was the better jockey, in a match race that had definite racial overtones. Murphy was victorious.
June 21, 1893, Aristides passed away after winning the first Kentucky Derby 18 years earlier. A chestnut thoroughbred with a white star and two hind stockings, Aristides was bred by Hal Price McGrath and foaled in 1872. Aristides raced 21 times with 9 wins, five places, and one show. In 1988, the Aristides Stakes was inaugurated at Churchill Downs to honor him. A life-sized bronze statue of Aristides by Carl Regutti stands at Churchill Downs Clubhouse Gardens as a memorial.
November 26, 1894, the articles of incorporation of the new Louisville Jockey Club were filed in the County Clerk’s office. The incorporators were Messrs. Emile Bourlier, Henry Wehmhoff and W.E. Applegate, each of whom held twenty shares valued at $100 per share, W.F. Schulte and C.J. Bollinger, fifteen shares, and M.S. Simonton, ten shares. The capital stock was fixed at 110,000.
April 29, 1901, the 27th running of the Kentucky Derby took place. The winner was His Eminence with James Winkfield aboard in 2.07.75. Trained and owned by F.B. Van Meter the 1st place prize money was $4,850. Second place received $700 and third won $300. The 1901 Derby was the only time the race was run in April.
Tuesday, May 5, 1908, Stone Street won the 34th Kentucky Derby on a muddy track, in 2:15.20, the slowest derby for the 1 1/4 distance. 19 year old Arthur Pickens was in the irons and held the record for being the youngest jockey to win the Derby for 70 years until Steve Cauthen, 18, won in 1978. It was Stone Street’s only stakes race win and the connections won a purse of $4,850.
September 1, 1913, Woodford “Woody” Cefis Stephens was born in Stanton. His first winner as a trainer was Bronze Bugle in 1940 at Keeneland. He went on to win the 100th and 110th Kentucky Derbies with Cannonade and Swale. His greatest feat was winning the Belmont 5 consecutive times, a record that many say will never be matched. Stephens was inducted into Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 1976 and won an Eclipse Award as outstanding trainer in 1983. Today the Woody Stephens Stakes is one of the undercard races on Belmont day.
May 8, 1915, Regret wins the 41st running of the Kentucky Derby. Regret, the first filly to ever win the Derby, generated significant publicity for the race, causing Churchill Downs president Matt Winn to observe that because of Regret’s win “the Derby was thus made an American institution.”
March 29, 1917, Man o’ War was born in Kentucky at Nursery Stud near Lexington. He raced 21 times as a two and three year old; 18 in New York, 2 in Maryland and one in Canada, his last race. America would enter WW1 a few days after he was born. Three years later “Big Red” along with Babe Ruth would capture the hearts of sport fans nationwide as the country headed into the roaring 20’s. Happy 100th Birthday To Man o’ War.
May 12, 1917, Omar Khayyam, foaled in England, won the 43rd Kentucky Derby and thus became the first foreign bred horse to win the Derby. On the same day, Kalitan won the 42nd Preakness Stakes, one of two times the races were held on the same day. Kalitan became the first Preakness Stakes winner to be presented with the most valuable trophy in sports, the Woodlawn Vase.
November 20, 1919, Maj August Belmont, Jr. announced that Fair Play, would stay in Kentucky, at his Nursery Stud, after selling him for $100,000 to G.A. Cochran of New York. August also received the right to breed 10 mares to him. Fair Play was the leading sire in North America of 1920, 1924 and 1927, and the leading broodmare sire of 1931, 1934 and 1938. He was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1956. He is best known for siring Man o’ War.
May 13, 1922, the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes were run on the same day. Since 1931, the order of Triple Crown races has been the Kentucky Derby first, followed by the Preakness Stakes, and then the Belmont Stakes. Prior to 1931, the Preakness Stakes was run before the Kentucky Derby eleven times. The Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes were also run on the same day on May 12, 1917.
November 18, 1922, Ellis Park Race Course, opened the gates for the first Thoroughbred meet. One month earlier, Ellis officially opened with a Grand Circuit harness meet. Ellis Park, originally Dade Park, was built in 1922 by the Green River Jockey Club. The original plans were to build a track 1 ½ miles long (as the Green River Jockey Club wanted one of the longest in the nation). Ernest F. Bohme, a Lexington, Ky., architect, assigned to develop the plans for Ellis Park, became confused during the decision making and brought in sketches with a track 3/8 of a mile shorter. Time was growing short, so the original investor decided to go with Bohme’s design.
November 4, 1930, Phar Lap won the Melbourne Cup Race in Australia, the country’s most prestigious race. The legendary Phar Lap won (after a 3rd placing the previous year), as the shortest priced favorite in history and the only favorite to win at ‘odds on’ (8/11). Due to his outstanding success, criminals tried to shoot Phar Lap three days earlier after he had finished a track work. They missed, and later that day he won the Melbourne Stakes, and three days later the Melbourne Cup.
November 1933, the Kentucky Association disbanded, was sold and the track’s grandstand, clubhouse, and stables were demolished. Due to financial difficulties, the 65 acre Lexington club disbanded 107 years after it began, to make way for the construction of a federal low-cost housing project. Keeneland’s front gate, houses one of the few known markers left over from the historic track; an old gatepost with initials K.A. Ref: 23
November 5, 1935, Lester Piggott was born in Wantage, a historic county of Berkshire, England. Champion jockey of Britain 11 times between 1960 and 1982 he enjoyed 4,493 career wins, 30 British Classic winners including nine Epsom Derby victories. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest flat racing jockeys of all time and the originator of a much imitated style. During his career he partnered with many of the greatest horses of modern racing history, headed by the 1970 English Triple Crown winner Nijinsky. Popularly known as “The Long Fellow” he was known for his competitive personality, keeping himself thirty pounds under his natural weight. Video
May 24, 1936, Donald T. Brumfield one of Kentucky’s greatest jockeys was born in Nicholasville. When he retired in 1989, he had the most wins at Churchill Downs (925) and Keeneland Racecourse (716). In 1966 he was the second jockey to win both the Kentucky Oaks (Native Street) and Kentucky Derby (Kauai King) in the same year. Shortly after dismounting from Kauai King, his first of two Derby wins, Brumfield told the press, “I’m the happiest hillbilly hardboot in the world.”
October 15, 1936, Royal Raiment wins the first race, a $1,000 allowance for 2 year old fillies, run at Keeneland Racecourse. The grey filly was owned by John Jay Whitney, trained by J.W. Healy and ridden by John Gilbert. 8,000 people were in attendance for the seven races and wagered $74,639. The first meet lasted nine days.
November 9, 1938, Keeneland made their first charitable contribution. Two years after the Kenneland Association was founded, the Race Course had made a small profit. $500 was gifted to the Lexington Community Chest, a forerunner to the United Way. Ref: 22
December 12, 1942, more than twenty thousand people turned out to watch Calumet Farm’s Whirlaway win the inaugural Louisiana Handicap at the Fair Grounds Race Course. The newly formed Thoroughbred Racing Association staged this event as a war-relief effort. It would be the last race of Whirlaway’s brilliant career and he was voted his second straight American Horse of the Year title.
November 1, 1947, Man o’ War had a heart attack at the age of 30 in Lexington. Three days later, more than 2,000 people attended his funeral, which was broadcast on NBC Radio and featured nine eulogies. He passed away less than a month after his longtime groom Will Harbut died. Although Man o’ War never raced in Kentucky, he spent the majority of his life in the Bluegrass State. There are estimates that as many as three million visitors traveled to Mr. Riddle’s Faraway Farm between 1921 and 1947 to see the legendary horse in retirement and hear Will, who nicknamed him, “the mostest horse that ever was.” tell tales of his exploits on the track. Man o’ War made his debut on June 6, 1919 when attendance and purses at racetracks were at record lows. By the time he retired 16 months later, he was a national hero, joining Babe Ruth as the first shining stars of the Roaring Twenties. The charismatic horse’s popularity had brought fans back to the track. He was originally interred at Faraway Farm, but in the early 1970s, his remains were moved to a new burial site at the Kentucky Horse Park. Video
May 3, 1952, the 78th running of the Kentucky Derby was telecast nationwide for the first time. Calumet Farm won with Hill Gail, Eddie Arcaro up and Ben A. Jones trainer. Some feared that televising the race would reduce attendance but it proved unfounded with subsequent broadcasts drawing tens of millions of viewers, further solidifying the race’s popularity. WAVE-TV in 1949 did the first local telecast. The purse exceeded $100,000 for the first time. Video
November 22, 1955, Andrew Cap Tilles, the “A” in CATS passed away in his hometown of St. Louis. CATS, an investment syndicate became known in the media as the “Big Three,” after its three principal partners: Louis A. Cella, Samuel W. Adler and A.C. Tilles. By World War One, the Big Three had acquired most every major non-coastal horse race track in the heart of the country, with the exceptions of Hawthorne and Churchill Downs. As CATS President, Tilles revolutionized the horse racing industry by introducing electricity to the game, developing the modern system of licensing book makers, and holding the first ever recorded instance of night racing.
November 15, 1960, Kiaran P. McLaughlin was born. It’s Tricky gave him his first G1 win in the blue silks of Godolphin in 2011 followed by the likes of champion Questing and G1 winners Emcee and Alpha, now both Darley stallions. Runners by Sheikh Hamdan have also performed very well for McLaughlin, most notably, Horse of the Year Invasor, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and Jazil, winner of the Belmont Stakes. Even though he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis during that period, he continued to split his time between the two countries. He made a permanent return to the States in 2003 after he and his wife, Letty, thought it best for their family to once again make America their home. McLaughlin commented at the time, “My first job in life is to be a parent.” He opened a public stable that year while continuing to train for the Maktoum family. Video
November 16, 1967, Native Dancer passed away. Nicknamed the Grey Ghost, he was one of the most celebrated and accomplished Thoroughbred racehorses in history and was the first horse made famous through the medium of television. As a two-year-old, he was undefeated in his nine starts for earnings of $230,495, a record for a two-year-old. During his three years of racing, he won 21 of 22 starts. “When he lost the Kentucky Derby by a head, thousands turned from their TV screens in sorrow, a few in tears,” Time magazine reported. Video
May 4, 1968, Richard Nixon as a candidate for the Presidency was in attendance to watch Dancers Image cross the finish line first in the 94th Kentucky Derby. However, Dancers Image had bute in his system and was placed last, the second place runner, Forward Pass was declared the winner. Nixon the only President to resign from office witnessed the only horse to be DQ’d from the Derby. The following year, Nixon returned to Churchill Downs, fulfilling a promise he made to attend the Derby if he won the presidency. To this day, Nixon is the only sitting president to attend the Derby.*
November 2, 1968, Dr. Fager made his final start in the Vosburgh Stakes, in which he was assigned 139 pounds, the highest weight ever assigned by track handicapper Tommy Trotter in a regular stakes event. Dr. Fager broke in fourth place but soon moved up to challenge for the lead. He completed the half-mile in 43 4⁄5 seconds then started to draw away, eventually winning by six lengths. He completed the seven furlongs in 1:20 1⁄5, a new track record by a full second and just one-fifth of a second off the world record. Video
May 1, 1970, Diane Crump became the first women jockey to ride in the Kentucky Derby. Crump won the first race on the underdcard that day, and then on a horse name Fathom, came in 15th in a 17-horse field in the Derby. Ms. Crump was also the first female jockey to compete in a pari-mutuel race in the United States at Hialeah Park, FL.
October 11, 1984, the inaugural running of the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup took place, with Queen Elizabeth II in attendance to present the winning trophy. Keeneland didn’t have an actual Winner’s Circle prior to the 1984 visit. For regular races, a chalk circle drawn on the track served as the Winner’s Circle. For major races, the trophy presentations were held in the infield on grass. Per the wishes of the Queen’s security team, Keeneland built a Winner’s Circle. The race was won by Cherry Valley Farm’s, Sintra.
November 10, 1984, the inaugural Breeders’ Cup was held at Hollywood Park in Los Angeles. Seven races, featuring the world’s greatest horses, jockeys and trainers competing on one stage for $10 million in purses, with an unprecedented live four hour national broadcast. The $3 million Breeders’ Cup Classic hype, lived up to its billing. The favorite, Slew o’Gold, Preakness winner Gate Dancer and 31-1 longshot Wild Again drove and banged together down Hollywood Park stretch to the wire.
Attendance: 64,254 Handle: $19,476,050. Video
December 8, 1984, Brian Taylor, while racing at the Sha Tin Racecourse in Hong Kong was thrown from his saddle while crossing the finish line. His mount, Silver Star (銀星一號), stumbled. Taylor would succumb two days later in hospital from the serious neck and head injuries he had received. His friend Bill Burnett wanted him to find someone else to replace him for that race due to his shingles. Wally Hood offered to take the ride but at the last minute, Brian decided to race, which turned out to be his last.
November 21, 1987, Breeders’ Cup returned to site of its inaugural running, Hollywood. One of the most exciting Classics to be run, winners of the past two Kentucky Derbies, Ferdinand and Alysheba, battled to the wire. Judge Angelucci, named for a long term Fayette County Judge, set the pace. This was for Horse of the Year. Video
November 5, 1988, Churchill Downs and Kentucky held their first Breeders’ Cup World Championship. Racing fans witnessed some of the greatest performances in the sport’s history on this rainy day. Alysheba, who under dark skies won the 3 million dollar Classic, (dubbed the “Midnight Classic”) to capture the Horse of the Year title. Trainer D. Wayne Lukas became the first trainer to win three Breeders’ Cup races on a single card and Julie Krone became the 1st women BC jockey, riding in three races. But the day’s most dramatic moment came in the million dollar Distaff (fillies & mares), where the undefeated Personal Ensign, appearing hopelessly beaten at the top of the stretch, somehow gathered herself and closed stoutly on Kentucky Derby winner Winning Colors and prevailed by a head. She was trained by Lexingtonian Shug McGaughey III and owned and bred by Ogden Phipps. For years, the 1988 Distaff would remain the signature moment of the Breeders’ Cup. Video
October 4, 1989, at 11:45 AM, Secretariat, affectionately known as “Big Red”, was given a lethal injection at Claiborne Farm in Paris. He was 19 years of age and suffered from laminitis, a painful and usually incurable degenerative disease of the sensitive inner tissues of the hoofs. Dr. Thomas Swerczek, a professor of veterinary science at the U.K., performed the necropsy. All of the horse’s vital organs were normal in size except for the heart. ”We were all shocked,” Swerczek said. ”I’ve seen and done thousands of autopsies on horses, and nothing I’d ever seen compared to it. The heart of the average horse weighs about nine pounds. This was almost twice the average size, and a third larger than any equine heart I’d ever seen. And it wasn’t pathologically enlarged. All the chambers and the valves were normal. It was just larger. I think it told us why he was able to do what he did.”
November 8, 1997, The 14th Breeders’ Cup turned out to be extremely predictable as favorites won 5 of the 7 races. Patrick Byrne, won the Juvenile Fillies with Countess Diana and the Juvenile with Favorite Trick. The team of trainer Jenine Sahadi and rider Corey Nakatani combined to again win the Sprint, this time with the 7-year-old gelding Elmhurst. Foreign horses won the turf races. The Classic was all Skip Away. A 4-year-old colt trained by Sonny Hine and ridden by Mike Smith, who dominated to win by six lengths, the largest Classic-winning margin to date. In a close vote, Favorite Trick was later named Horse of the Year. Video
November 14, 1997, George Edward Arcaro, known professionally as Eddie Arcaro, passed away. Eddie was a Hall of Fame jockey who at one time won more American classic races than any other jockey in history. He is the only rider to have won the U.S. Triple Crown twice. They included 1941 on Whirlaway and again in 1948 on Citation. His other Kentucky Derby wins were Hoop Jr. (1945) and Hill Gail (1952). He is widely regarded as the greatest jockey in the history of American Thoroughbred Horse Racing. Eddie was once banned from the track and after a year he returned, partly due to public pressure. What this man can do for you, I can do better. – Eddie Arcaro 1955. Video
December 10, 1999, Laffit Alejandro Pincay Jr. became the winningest jockey in thoroughbred racing by winning race number 8,834. He passed Willie Shoemaker for this honor at Hollywood Park. He ended his career with 9,530 wins and would hold the record for seven years.
January 12, 2001, Affirmed passed away. His great duels with Alydar in the Triple Crown series may be the best Triple Crown races of all-time. Affirmed was trained by Lazaro S. Barrera and was owned and breed by Lou and Patrice Wolfson’s Harbor View Farm.
November 6, 2005, Ellis Park was in the middle of a F3 Tornado that cut a 41 mile swath. Only three of the horses stabled at the park died that day, but several were severely injured. The terrace grandstand crumbled to the ground and nine of the 39 barns were destroyed. Debris from the park was swept away with the wind along the tornado’s path. The club house and the main grandstand sustained little damage. A farmer discovered several race horses, wandering in the Ohio River bottoms, days after the storm.
December 1, 2006, Russell Baze winning the fourth race at Bay Meadows set the world’s all-time record for most career victories, passing jockey Laffit Pincay Jr., by winning career race 9,531 aboard Butterfly Belle. He is the first jockey to win 10,000 races and in 2013 he won his 12,000th race. Since the inauguration of the Isaac Murphy Award in 1995, presented annually by the National Turf Writers Association to the jockey with the highest winning percentage in North America, Baze has won it 13 of 14 years, coming in second in 2004.
May 5, 2007, HM Queen Elizabeth II was on track to watch Street Sense win the Run for the Roses. It was the fifth visit to Kentucky and first to the Kentucky Derby. The Queen was accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh and close friend, horse breeder, William Farish, a former US ambassador to the UK, whose farm she stays on. Race course president Steve Sexton said: “Queen Elizabeth is certainly the most prestigious guest we’ve entertained in the modern-day history of the Kentucky Derby.”
November 23, 2007, Chad Brown won his first start as a trainer with his own string. His first stable started with only ten horses, five provided by Ken and Sarah Ramsey and the other five by Gary and Mary West. He won with his second starter, but the horse was claimed, reducing the stable to nine. He then went to Oaklawn Park for the winter meet, before moving to Keeneland where he scored his second win.
November 7, 2009, Zenyatta became the first female to win the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic run at Santa Anita Park. She carried 124 lbs and won by 1 length over Gio Ponti. She earned $2,700,000 of the $5,000,000 purse. Later she became the first horse to win two different Breeders’ Cup races, improving her winning record to 14 of 14. Zenyatte won 19 consecutive races in a 20-race career. Video
November 17, 2010, Zenyatta announced her retirement, a little over a month after winning the Hollywood’s Lady’s Secret Stakes (G1). This was the third time she won the race and with this victory, she broke the all-time North American record for Grade/Group I victories by a filly/mare. She also tied the all-time North American record for consecutive victories without defeat, and broke the all-time North American female earnings record. Video