The Kentucky Derby is the longest-running sporting event in the United States, with the iconic race first staged back in 1875. Today, according to the horse betting specialists, the Derby is also one of the world’s biggest betting events in the USA. Last year $155.4 million was bet on the 2021 event.
Often referred to as The Run for the Roses, the race is part of the US Triple Crown alongside the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes.
Read on as we look at the history of the Kentucky Derby, identify some of the biggest talking points from the race and assess a couple of the main contenders for the 2022 edition.
A background to the Kentucky Derby
Meriwether Lewis Clark’s visit to Europe during the early 1870s was the catalyst for the creation of the Kentucky Derby.
After attending the Epsom Derby in England, Clark returned to home with a vision to create a similar showpiece event in the US.
With the help of his uncles John & Henry Churchill, he rallied a local group of horse racing enthusiasts to become the Louisville Jockey Club.
They raised funds to build a permanent racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky, which opened its doors for the first time on May 17, 1875.
The initial running of the Derby saw 15 three-year-old thoroughbreds compete over one and a half miles. Aristides was the first winner of the race.
The evolution of the Kentucky Derby
The racetrack was named Churchill Downs in 1883 in honour of the men whose efforts helped establish the venue in Kentucky.
The distance of the Derby was shortened to a mile and a quarter in 1896 as some critics argued the longer trip was too far for three-year-olds that early in the spring.
National interest in the race grew massively during the 20th century, with radio and television broadcasts helping to broaden its appeal.
The 99th running of the race proved to be pivotal as Secretariat powered home in a record-breaking time of 1:59:40.
Fast forward to today and the Derby retains a special place in the hearts of US sports fans, although the race has not avoided controversy.
Churchill bosses get tough with Baffert
Trainer Bob Baffert’s record seventh Derby victory could be taken away after 2021 winner Medina Spirit tested positive for the steroid betamethasone.
Churchill Downs suspended Baffert for two years and a decision over whether the horse will be disqualified is set to made in January.
Despite denying any wrongdoing, Baffert has had several testing failures over the past year, casting doubt over the legitimacy of his famed training operation.
If Medina Spirit loses the race this would be the second disqualification in three years after 2019 winner Maximum Security was thrown out for interference.
Country House was subsequently awarded the race, but many respected racing pundits thought the decision was harsh.
Smile Happy lays down a Derby marker
Smile Happy’s recent victory in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes saw him installed as one of the favourites for the 2022 Derby.
He earned 10 qualifying points towards the event, with the race forming part of Churchill’s Road to the Kentucky Derby series.
Corniche is another early fancy for the Derby after storming home to win the 38th running of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Del Mar.
However, the Baffert-trained horse may have to switch stables after Churchill confirmed they would not credit the 20 qualifying points that would normally go to the winner.
If Baffert is unable to overturn his ban, owner Peter Fluor will have to move his horse elsewhere if he is to Run for the Roses.