Kentucky Sports

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.

Isaac Burns MurphyApril 16, 1861, Isaac Burns was born near Frankfort, KY. 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 Murphy’s first KY Derby win came on May 27, 1884.  Two more derby wins would follow 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.  

Arthur MillerAugust 6, 1861, Arthur McQuiston Miller UK’s 1st football coach was born. In 1892, he joined the faculty at Kentucky State College (now the University of Kentucky) as a professor of geology and zoology. That year, he coached the football team in its inaugural season at the urging of the students, which came despite his limited knowledge of the sport. Kentucky finished with a 2–4–1 record and Miller allowed John A. Thompson, who was more familiar with the game, to coach the team the following season. By 1907, Miller was the head of the geological, zoological, and entomological departments at Kentucky. From 1908 to 1917, he served as the school’s first dean of arts and sciences. In June 1925, Miller was informed that he could be called upon to testify in defense of John T. Scopes, a University of Kentucky alumnus and former student of Miller’s, during the Scopes Monkey Trial. Miller Hall on the University of Kentucky campus was named in his honor in 1940.


1876 Louisville Grays

July 19, 1865
, Louisville, KY hosted the first baseball game played west of the Alleghenies played under standard rules. The Louisville Grays hosted and defeated the Nashville Cumberlands. When Louisville businessman Walter Haldeman and others formed the National League in 1876, this Louisville club was a charter member. The Grays finished fifth in 1876 and in 1877 led the league in the final weeks of the season, losing to the Boston Red Caps in the final game. It was later discovered that gamblers had paid four Louisville players to lose games in 1877 so that Boston would win the championship. Baseball’s first major scandal led to the demise of the Grays, and the four team members were banned from playing professional baseball for life. Kentucky has not been represented by a major league team since.

Aristides horseMonday, 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.

redmile2September 28, 1875, the Red Mile ran their first race named the Lexington Stakes and a small crowd witnessed Odd Fellow cross the finish line first. Today, it hosts one of the legs of the Triple Crown of Harness Racing for Trotters, the annual Kentucky Futurity. The track is the second-oldest harness racing track in the world and the oldest horse racing track in Lexington. This historical track is one mile long and made of red clay.

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.

April 9, 1880, the first organized football game played in the South was played in Kentucky when Kentucky University (now Transylvania University) beat Centre College 13 ¾ – 0 in a cow pasture. There were fifteen players on each team and when a player was injured and removed, he could not re-enter the game. Football games were continued to be played in the pasture and eventually concrete stands were added in 1916 creating UK’s first football stadium: Stoll Field. Ref: K & 16

May 2, 1882, Louis Rogers “Pete” Browning, made his Major League Baseball debut for the Louisville Eclipse. A genuine pre-modern national star, one of the major league game’s pioneers, and one of the sport’s most enduring and intriguing figures, Louis Rogers “Pete” Browning was a lifelong residence of Louisville. A skilled marbles player and name figure skater, Browning was a talented baseball player from the start. He was one of the sport’s most accomplished batters of the 1880s. A three-time batting champion, he finished among the top three hitters in the league in each of his first seven years. Twice in the decade, he hit for the cycle in 1886, and again in 1889. He also led the league in hits, total bases and on-base percentage in 1885.  Nicknamed the “Louisville Slugger”, he was enormously attentive to the bats he used, and was the first player to have them custom-made, establishing a practice among hitters which continues to the present. Pete’s 44 year life spanned from 1861 – 1905.

Ben Ali (Horse)May 14, 1886, Ben Ali (pictured) won the 12th Kentucky Derby in a record setting performance. 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 so there were no bookies at the 1886 derby to handle high-dollar bets. James Ben Ali Haggin could not place a large bet on his winning stallion. News traveled in the east coast 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.  Ref: I

January 15, 1891, Raymond Johnson Chapman was born in Beaver Dam, KY. Mr. Chapman was a professional baseball player spending his entire career as a shortstop for Cleveland. Chapman was hit in the head by a pitch thrown by Yankees pitcher Carl Mays, and died 12 hours later on August 17, 1920. He remains the only Major League Baseball player to have died from an injury received at a major league baseball game.

Aristides horseJune 21, 1893, Aristides passed away after winning the first KY 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.



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.

February 18, 1903, the University of Kentucky basketball team recorded its first victory against the Lexington YMCA. The final score was 11-10. 

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.

May 10, 1911, the Bluegrass Stakes race was run for the first time at the Kentucky Association Track.

Woody StephensSeptember 1, 1913, Woodford “Woody” Cefis Stephens was born in Stanton, KY. 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.”

Man o WarMarch 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.

Omar KhayyamMay 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.


Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese. Game 1 of the 52 World Series. Both hit home runs, Dodgers win. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

July 23, 1918, Harold Henry “Pee Wee” Reese was born on a small farm in Meade County between Ekron and Brandenburg. When he was a child, the family moved to Louisville, where he got his nickname; not because of his size but because of his prowess at marbles. One year he was the runner-up to the national champion in Louisville’s Courier-Journal marble tournament. His 16 year tenure with the LA Dodgers included 7 NL titles.  He led the NL in; stolen bases in 1952, double plays 4 times in 42’ and 46’-48’, fielding average in 49’. He was named to the All-Star Team eight times (1947-54) and he played in 7 World Series. Reese was the team’s captain, and Dodger sportscaster Red Barber described him as the glue that kept his team together. Reese, instrumental in smoothing Jackie Robinson’s entrance into baseball, was called “the catalyst of baseball integration,” by author Roger Kahn. He was elected into the Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1984.



Ray ChapmanAugust 17, 1920, Raymond Johnson Chapman from Beaver Dam, KY passed away after being hit by a pitch while batting in the major leagues, he remains the only player to die from an injury received during a game. The game was held during a dark rainy afternoon, in NY against the Yankees at the Polo Grounds. In the 1st pitch of the 5th inning a loud crack was heard and the ball trickled toward the mound, the pitcher quickly fielded it, tossing it to first for what he thought was the first out of the inning. But Chapman had sunk to a knee in the batter’s box, his eyes closed and his mouth open. He was carried off the field and died 12 hours later after surgery. Married before the start of the season to Kathleen Daly who was pregnant, he had hinted this would be his last season. His team, the Cleveland Indians, won the game and the World Series later that year.

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 30, 1928, coach Joe B. Hall was born in Cynthiana, KY. Coach Hall won Kentucky’s 5th National Championship beating Duke 94-88.

Gay_BrewerMarch 19, 1932, Gay Robert Brewer, Jr., was born. His family lived next to the Ashland Golf Club in Lexington, where he worked as a caddy. By the time Brewer played golf at Lafayette High School in 1947, he had developed an exceptional game. He won three straight high school championships, a state record, in 1949, 1950, and 1951. In 1949, he also won the U.S. Junior Amateur, the most prestigious amateur event for golfers under the age of eighteen. In 1952, he won the Southern Amateur. Gay attended UK on a football scholarship for two years where coach Bear Bryant used him in practice as a holder for field goals and extra points. Brewer turned professional in 1956. In 1965, he won the Hawaiian Open. At the 1966 Masters Tournament, he bogeyed the final hole to finish in a three-way tie for the lead after regulation play but ended up finishing third to Jack Nicklaus following an 18-hole playoff. He came back the next year and won it, scoring a one stroke victory over lifelong friend Bobby Nichols in the first live television broadcast of a golf tournament from the United States to Europe. Brewer called winning the 1967 Masters “the biggest thrill I’ve had in golf.” He went on to become a member of the 1967 Ryder Cup winning team. That same year at the Pensacola Open, he set a PGA Tour record for the best 54-hole total on a par-72 course. His score of 25-under par 191 is a record that still stands over forty years later. In his career, he won more than ten PGA events.

September 30, 1933, the newly formed SEC played their first football game in Lexington, KY at Stoll Field/McLean Stadium. The University of Kentucky beat the Sewanee Purple Tigers 7-0.

don-brumfieldMay 24, 1936, Donald T. Brumfield one of Kentucky’s greatest jockeys was born in Nicholasville, KY. 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.

odie-smithOctober 5, 1936, Adrian Howard “Odie” Smith was born in Farmington, KY. His family lived in a farmhouse that had no electricity and no indoor plumbing. He was nicknamed “Odie” after a comedian on the Grand Ole Opry. As a child, he attended a three-room schoolhouse in rural Graves County, Kentucky. Because the family didn’t have money for a basketball, he learned to shoot one his mother made from rolling up his dad’s socks. He attended Farmington High School, where he nearly didn’t play high school basketball until the school’s principal/basketball coach agreed to give him a ride home (a distance of seven miles) after practices. From these humble beginnings, Odie went on to win a NCAA Championship under Rupp in 1958 and a Gold Medal in 1960 in Rome, Italy.

January 17, 1942, Muhammad Ali [Cassius Clay], “The Greatest,” who is the only three-time heavyweight champion was born in Louisville, Kentucky.

man-o-warNovember 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.

March 23, 1948, Adolph Rupp coached the University of Kentucky basketball team to its first NCAA Championship by beating Baylor University 58-42 in New York City.  Eight teams participated in the tournament and Wildcat Alex Groza was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.

January 1, 1951, the Kentucky Wildcats, led by Coach Bear Bryant, beat the Oklahoma Sooners 13-7 in the 17th Sugar Bowl, considered one of the biggest upsets in college football. The game pitted Big Seven champion Oklahoma (ranked #1 in the Associated Press poll) against the Southeastern Conference champion Kentucky (ranked #7). Oklahoma’s regular season record was 10-0; Kentucky’s was 10-1. Oklahoma averaged 34.5 points per game and entered the game with a 31-game winning streak. Only one team had scored more than twice in a game against Kentucky that season. Walt Yowarsky was named the game’s Most Valuable Player. His position was defensive tackle and recovered a fumble on the Oklahoma 22-yard line, leading to Kentucky’s first score: for a 7-0 Kentucky lead at the end of the first quarter. He had played less than 5 minutes on defense during the regular season. Picture

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.

bear-bryantFebruary 4, 1954, Paul William “Bear” Bryant resigned as the head football coach at the University of Kentucky after signing a twelve year contract a month earlier. He attributed his decision to the highly competitive nature between himself and Coach Rupp, both men wanted top billing for their program. When Bryant signed his new contract, he believed that Rupp would soon retire. When Rupp signed a ten year extension, Bryant resigned.  Coach Bryant enjoyed an impressive 60-23-5 record while coaching the Wildcats, including 3-1 in bowl games. (Great Lakes ’48, Orange ’50, Sugar ’51 and Cotton ’52)

David HayesJuly 9, 1955, David L. Hayes from Leitchfield, KY caught an all tackle WORLD RECORD 11lbs., 15ozs., smallmouth bass in Dale Hallow Lake, Phillip’s Bend area, with his pearl-colored Bomber 600 lure. The 27-inch long smallmouth bass was reeled in from the Kentucky side of the lake. To commemorate this legendary catch, the auxiliary boat ramp at Dale Hollow State Resort Park Marina was recently renamed the David L. Hayes Boat Ramp. The sign marking the ramp includes a life-sized image of the record fish. 

February 27, 1956, Kentucky’s General Assembly passed Senate Resolution 70, establishing the spotted bass as Kentucky’s state gamefish. Soon afterwards, the legislation was signed into law by Governor Chandler. From that date, the spotted bass became known as the Kentucky bass, a common name that is widely accepted in Kentucky. The spotted bass was chosen as the state gamefish because of its abundance in the Ohio River, and tributaries to the south, many of which arise or flow through the Bluegrass State. Populations of spotted bass are found in most of Kentucky’s major rivers, but ichthyologists didn’t recognize that the spotted bass was a separate species from the largemouth bass until 1927. In Kentucky, adult spotted bass are commonly 8 to 15 inches in length, weighing 8 ounces to 2 pounds.

June 6, 1956, Esker Carroll caught a Kentucky state record 97 pound flathead catfish in the Green River. 

August 8, 1956, Kelsie Travis, Jr. from Paducah caught a 40lb Longnose Gar in the Ohio River. 40 lbs is the Kentucky State Record. The Longnose Gar is an Ancient Fish species.

March 22, 1958, the University of Kentucky basketball team won its 4th NCAA Tournament beating Seattle 84-72.  Temple and Kansas St. completed the final four. The tournament involved 24 schools and the finals were held in Louisville, Kentucky.  The Wildcats were coached by Adolph Rupp.

Muhammad Ali Gold MedalSeptember 5, 1960, Muhammad Ali won his Olympic light-heavyweight gold medal in Rome. Despite being only 18, he won all four of his fights easily. In the final he defeated, in a unanimous decision, three-time European champion, Zbigniew Pietrzykowski. Ali, then named Cassius Clay, cherished his gold medal from the 1960 Olympics so much that he wore it all the time, even while sleeping. The Ali/Gold medal story is of great mystery to this day. Some say he lost it but Ali and his brother tell another story. One day, sickened by a horrific bout of racism he encountered that evening, the 18-year-old champion stood on the Second Street Bridge and threw the medal into the Ohio River.

ali-first-fightOctober 29, 1960, Muhammad Ali makes his professional debut in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, winning a six-round unanimous decision over Tunney Hunsaker, whose day job was police chief of Fayetteville, West Virginia.


March 22, 1967, after eight successful title defenses, including another win over Liston and one over former champ Floyd Patterson, Ali knocks out Zora Folley in the seventh round in Madison Square Garden. It was his last fight before losing his titles and facing prison for refusing to be inducted into the U.S. Army.

April 28, 1967, Muhammad Ali was stripped of his title: World Heavyweight Champion. He refused his army induction notice for religious reasons and was sentenced to 10 years in prison and fined $10,000. He served no time but was barred from his livelihood.  “Smokin” Joe Frazier was awarded the title and thus started one of sports’ greatest feuds. Three years later Ali received a license to fight again.  

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.*

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.

June 13, 1970, A.E. Sellers of Louisville, KY., set a state fishing record by catching a 7 lbs., 10 ozs. Kentucky Bass. The Kentucky Bass also known as a Spotted Bass is the Kentucky State Fish. In Kentucky, adult spotted bass are commonly 8 to 15 inches in length, weighing 8 ounces to 2 pounds. Mr. Sellers caught the bass in a farm pond. It’s believed that the fish was trapped in the pond by receding flood waters, where it grew to such enormous size.*

February 26, 1973, Claiborne Farm announced that Triple Crown winner, Secretariat, had been syndicated for a then-record $6,080,000. There were 32 shares sold at $190,000 each.

Tim CouchJuly 31, 1977, Timothy Scott Couch was born in Hyden, Kentucky. As the Leslie County high school quarterback he set a number of national high school records — most pass completions (872), passing yardage (12,104), touchdown passes (132), and passing percentage for a season (75.1). Following his senior 1995 season, he was recognized as Kentucky’s Mr. Football. As the UK quarterback, Couch still holds the NCAA record for completion percentage in one game (minimum of 40 completions) at 83.0% vs. Vanderbilt (44 of 53) in 1998 and for completions per game (36.4, 400 in 11 games) that same season. He also left Kentucky holding NCAA records for most completions in a season (400 in 1998), most completions in a two-year period (793 in 1997-1998), most completions per game in a two-year period (34.7, 1997–1998) and career completion percentage (67.1%). Couch was the 1998 SEC Player Of The Year and in 1999 he was the number 1 overall pick in the NFL draft

February 15, 1978, Muhammad Ali, 36, loses his Heavyweight title by split decision after 15 rounds to Leon Spinks. The 25 year old pulled off one of the great upsets in boxing after only seven professional fights and a Gold Medal. Ali had beaten all the other Olympic gold medalists of his era, and he expected to easily defeat Spinks. But Ali trained very little for the fight, and as usual, lay on the ropes as Spinks built a lead. For the first time, however, Ali could not come back and lost a split decision in Vegas. 

March 27, 1978, Joe B. Hall led the Kentucky Wildcats over Duke to win their 5th National Championship in St. Louis, MO. Those who witnessed it call Jack Givens’ 41 point game, one of the finest performances in the college basketball history. The Cats went 30-2 for the season and won the SEC Tournament.

muhammad-ali-fights-leon-spinksSeptember 15, 1978, Muhammad Ali still 36 gets the heavyweight title back by beating Leon Spinks in a 15-round unanimous decision, making him the first man to reign as champion three times. He then retires for the first of two times.


Darrell Griffith, "Dr. Dunkenstein"
March 24, 1980, the Louisville Cardinals won their first NCAA national championship with a 59–54 victory over the UCLA Bruins at the Market Square Arena in Indianapolis. The team completed its a 33-3 season coached by Denny Crum and led by Darrell Griffith, aka “Dr. Dunkenstein,” the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Coach Larry Brown and Kiki Vandeweghe gave a valiant effort. The Bruins would later forfeit their season’s standings after players representing the school were declared ineligible by the NCAA.  Structurally speaking, this was the first tournament of the modern era.  For the first time: 1) an unlimited number of at-large teams could come from any conference. 2) the bracket was seeded to make each region as evenly competitive as possible. Previously, geographic considerations had trumped this. 3) All teams were seeded solely based on the subjective judgment of the committee.

Ali vs HolmesOctober 2, 1980, Muhammad Ali, at the age of 38 attempts a comeback in a title fight against Larry Holmes, a former Ali sparring partner, but his skills are clearly eroded. Ali’s trainer stops the fight after 10 rounds, marking the only time in his career that Ali lost by anything other than a decision.


April 14, 1984, Dale Wilson of London, Kentucky set a Kentucky record by catching a Largemouth Bass that weighed 13 lbs; 10.4 ozs. He caught it in Wood Creek Lake in Laurel County. Ref: EE*

August 12, 1984, Pee Wee Reese, from Ekron, KY, was inducted in Baseball’s Hall Of Fame.  His primary team was the Brooklyn Dodgers, playing shortstop.  His most important action on a baseball field may have been prior to a game. In 1947, the Dodgers were visiting Cincinnati, and the fans and opposing players were getting on rookie Jackie Robinson. Reese calmly walked over to Robinson, put his arm around his teammate’s shoulder, and chatted. The gesture is remembered as an important moment in both Robinson’s career and the acceptance of African Americans in baseball—and American society. Earlier, Reese had refused to sign a petition circulating among Dodger teammates concerning Robinson’s participation on the team. Jackie’s widow, Rachel Robinson, said, “I thought it was a very supportive gesture, and very instinctive on Pee Wee’s part. You shouldn’t forget that Pee Wee was the captain, and he led the way. Pee Wee was more than a friend. Pee Wee was a good man.”

qe-ii-cupOctober 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.


Phil SimmsJanuary 25, 1987, Phil Simms from Springfield won his first Super Bowl. NY Giants defeated Denver in Super Bowl XXI 39-20. In the biggest game of his life, Simms had one of the finest performances in Super Bowl history. He completed 22 of 25 passes (2 drops) for 268 yards, setting Super Bowl records for consecutive completions (10), accuracy (88%) and passer rating (150.9). In addition, he threw three touchdown passes and his passer rating set an NFL postseason record. “This might be the best game a quarterback has ever played,” Giants coach Bill Parcells later said. Two of the most famous plays from the game were the flea flicker to McConkey, and the touchdown pass caught by McConkey off of the fingertips of Giants tight end, Mark Bavaro. Simms was named MVP of Super Bowl XXI. He is credited for being the first to use the phrase “I’m going to Disney World!” following a championship victory.

1988-distaffNovember 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 1 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. Ref: WW

Secretariat Grave SiteOctober 4, 1989, at 11:45 AM, Secretariat, affectionately known as “Big Red”, was given a lethal injection at Claiborne Farm in Paris, Ky. 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.”

jim-bunningAugust 4, 1996, James Paul David Bunning, from Southgate, KY, was elected in to the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Jim Bunning, Bill Foster, Ned Hanlon and Earl Weaver made up the 58th induction class in Hall of Fame history. Jim Bunning was a tough right-handed sidearm pitcher during his 17-year big league career, but consistency was what he craved, once stating, “I am most proud of the fact I went through nearly 11 years without missing a start. They wrote my name down, and I went to the post.” Bunning won 224 games, an eight-time All-Star, one 20-win season, but would win 19 games four times and one perfect game. Besides throwing no-hitters in the American and National leagues, Bunning was also the second pitcher, behind Hall of Famer Cy Young, to win 100 games and collect 1,000 strikeouts in both circuits. When Bunning retired, he was second on the all-time strikeouts list to Walter Johnson with 2,855.

March 30, 1998, the Kentucky Wildcats win their 7th NCAA National Championship in the Alamodome. The Cats beat S.C. State, St. Louis, UCLA, Duke, Stanford (OT) and then defeated the Utah Utes 78-69. Jeff Sheppard of Kentucky was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Kentucky came back from double-digit deficits in each of its last three games in the tournament, including a 17-point second half comeback against the Duke Blue Devils, leading to the school’s fans dubbing the team the “Comeback Cats.”

August 28, 1999
Bruce W. Midkiff from Owensboro caught a world record 104 pound Blue Catfish.  He caught in the Ohio River near Cannelton Dam Tailwaters. This Blue catfish was caught on a live skipjack and it beat the previous state record set the same day below the same dam. The day he caught the record fish he took it to the Game Warden station in McLean Co. to get it officially weighed. They told him to put on hats and shirts with tackle manufactures on it and they would pay him for the advertising rights, and might display the fish in a tanks at different stores. He declined all offers and released the fish at the Owensboro boat ramp.



The Kentucky Derby has been run on every day except Sunday. From 1875 thru 1931, the Derby was run in mid-May on: Monday 7 times, Tuesday 8 times, Wednesday 12 times, Thursday 4 times, Friday 2 times and Saturday 23 times. In 1901 the race took place on Monday, April 29, the only time not run in May.  The race was officially changed to the 1st Saturday in May in 1932 due to the growing popularity of the Triple Crown Races. Prior to 1932, the Preakness Stakes was run before the Kentucky Derby eleven times and twice the races were run on the same day.

Frances A. Genter was the oldest owner to win the Kentucky Derby: with Unbridled in 1990 at the age of 92. Charlie Whittingham with Ferdinand in 1986 was the oldest trainer to win the Kentucky Derby at 76. Bill Shoemaker aboard Ferdinand in 1986 was the oldest jockey to win the Kentucky Derby at 54.*

Back to back Kentucky Derby winners:
Three Owners: Edward R. Bradley in 1932-33, Calumet Farm in 1948-49 and then again in 1957-58 and Meadow Stud/Farm in 1972-73.
Six Trainers: Herbert Thompson (1932, 33) Ben Jones (1948, 49) Jimmy Jones (1957, 58) Lucien Laurin (1972, 73) D. Wayne Lukas (1995, 96) and B. Baffert (1997, 98).  Six Jockeys: V. Espinoza (2014, 15) Calvin Borel (2009, 10) E. Delahoussaye (1982, 83) R. Turcotte (1972, 73) Jimmy Winkfield (1901, 02) and Isaac Murphy (1890, 91).*

15 women have owned Kentucky Derby winners:
Laska Durnell; (1904 Elwood): The first woman to start a horse in, and win the Kentucky Derby.
Fannie Hertz; (1928 Reigh Count, 1943 Count Fleet): The 1st women to own a Triple Crown Winner.
Helen Hay Whitney; (1931 Twenty Grand, 1942 Shut Out): Known as the “First Lady of the Turf,” she was the first woman to win the Derby twice. Lucille Wright Markey: (1952, 57-58, 68): the only women to win back to back Derbys and she has owned more Derby winners than any other female. Diana Firestone; (1980 Genuine Risk): The only women to own a filly who won the Derby.
Others: Rosa M. Hoots; (1924 Black Gold), Isabel Dodge Sloane; (1934 Cavalcade), Ethel V. Mars; (1940 Gallahadion), Elizabeth Arden Graham; (1947 Jet Pilot), Katherine Price; (1961 Carry Back), Ada L. Rice; (1965 Lucky Debonair), Penny Chenery; (1972 Riva Ridge, 1973 Secretariat), Karen Taylor; (1977 Seattle Slew), Elizabeth Keck; (1986 Ferdinand) and Frances Genter; (1990 Unbridled).*

The Kentucky Oaks aka “Lilies for the Fillies,” for the garland of lilies the winner receives, began the same year as the Derby in 1875. The winner is presented a sterling silver trophy, 25 inches tall, with horse-head handles on each side and an ornate silver horseshoe on top. Every year the winner’s name is engraved on the trophy which is held at the Kentucky Derby Museum. For a permanent keepsake, the winning owner of the Oaks receives a set of 12 sterling silver julep cups in a satin-lined wood case. The julep cups are engraved with the year and the names of the winning team. It is a sentimental tradition that the winning owner gifts a julep cup each to the winning trainer, winning jockey and the breeder of the horse.  The Owner also receives a check for $600,000 and typically pays the trainer and jockey 10% each.*

* Updated as needed