Kentucky Derby History and Lingo

143rd Kentucky Derby
Patrick Smith / Getty Images

Alternatively referred to as “The Run for the Roses” or “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports,” the Kentucky Derby is a 1.25-mile race for three-year-old thoroughbred horses. The Kentucky Derby draws an average of 150,000 visitors each year, including residents, out-of-towners, celebrities, presidents, and even members of royal families.


The first Kentucky Derby race occurred in 1875. Close to 10,000 people watched as 15 thoroughbred horses ran what was then a 1.5-mile course. In 1876, the length of the race was changed to 1.25 miles. By the early 1900s, owners of winning Kentucky Derby horses started sending their winners to run in the Preakness Stakes in Maryland and the Belmont Stakes in New York. In 1930, sportswriter Charles Hatton coined the term “Triple Crown” in reference to the same horses running the three races consecutively.


Mint Julep – The Mint Julep is the official drink of the Kentucky Derby. It is an iced drink consisting of bourbon, mint, and a sweet syrup and is traditionally served in a commemorative Kentucky Derby glass. During Derby season, they are available throughout Louisville. And, of course, at the track.

Burgoo – A thick, meaty stew that is the traditional meal of the Kentucky Derby. There are as many recipes as cooks, but burgoo is typically three types of meat along with corn, okra, and lima beans. It is one of the traditional foods of Louisville, including Derby Pie, Henry Bain Sauce, Hot Brown Sandwiches, and more.

Millionaire’s Row – The premium seating area that houses all of the rich and famous Kentucky Derby guests during the races. Think rock stars and royalty. Of course, the service for this clientele is superior and not accessible to the public.

Triple Crown – A series of three races, the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes, that is run annually by a group of thoroughbred horses. Horse racing fans watch all three closely.

Derby Hat Parade – The derby hat parade takes place inside of Churchill Downs and refers to the sea of stylish and elegant hats worn by women and men alike during the Kentucky Derby. Hats range from glamorous and pricey to humorous and timely. Fancy hats are believed to bring lucky bets.

Kentucky Derby Festival – The annual two-week series of events held in Louisville beginning with Thunder Over Louisville and leading up to the Kentucky Derby. There is no shortage of things to do; hot air balloon festivals, marathons, art fairs, and parades.

The Infield – The flat, grassy area inside of the track. The infield is best-known for hosting the largest Kentucky Derby party. While it is at the track, the track is only visible to a few at this huge event.