Gallop Down Memory Lane at Churchill Downs® – The Home of the Kentucky Derby®

Posted by Jazzy Morgan on Fri, Apr 14, 2017 @ 09:38 AM

Churchill Downs® also known as the “Home of the Kentucky Derby®” is located in Louisville, Kentucky. It opened in 1875 and hosted its first set of races on May 17th. This included The Kentucky Derby®, Kentucky Oaks® and Clark Handicap. Churchill Downs® was founded by Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark in 1872. Clark attended the Epsom Derby in Epsom, England, which sparked his ambition for horse racing and wanted to bring it to America. He leased the land in Louisville from his uncles John and Henry Churchill, which is where the name originated.

Saddling up for an Opening

Clark raised money for construction by selling racecourse Churchill Downs Twin Spires
memberships. He ended up selling 320 subscriptions at 100 dollars each, giving him 32,000 dollars to give the racecourse life. Clark began with building the grandstand, the clubhouse, Porters lodge (located near the entrance where people can go with questions about the building or events) and six stables. These initial structures still stand on the grounds today. The track was built on 80 acres of land and has grown to over 147 acres today. The most significant structure of the grounds, the Twin Spires that sit atop the Grandstand, were added in 1895 and have become the universally recognized symbol for Churchill Downs®.


And They’re Off!

Churchill Downs® had its first official race day on May 17th, 1875. The names for each of the three races (Kentucky Derby®, Kentucky Oaks® and Clark Handicap) were named after the Epsom Derby, Epsom Oaks and the St. Leger Stakes. The winner of the first race was Bonaventure. However, the first ever winner of the Kentucky Derby® was Chestnut-Cold, Aristides. Aristides was ridden by two African American men, Ansel Williamson and Oliver Lewis. Churchill Downs® had a crowd of over 10,000 spectators there to witness the 15 thoroughbreds run the first 1.5 mile long track. It now holds the record for the longest running, continuous sporting event in the United States.


Memory Lane

1875: May 17th, Churchill Downs® holds its first set of races, The Kentucky Derby®, The Kentucky Oaks® and Clark Handicap

1883: The name Churchill Downs® is officially used to landmark the racetrack

1894: The New Louisville Jockey Club was incorporated at Churchill Downs®

1903: Track finally started to show profit, 28 years after opening.

Fast ForwChurchill Downs Historyard

2000: Churchill Downs® Incorporated merged with Chicago’s Arlington International Racecourse

2002-2003: Steve Sexton became President and began a two-step renovation process

  • Phase one: 60 new luxury suites
  • Phase two: expand Turf Club, install more seating and build a new grandstand entrance

2009: Kevin Flanery names 13th President. Churchill Downs® hosts first ever night race with an attendance of over 27,000 spectators


Attend the 2017 Kentucky Derby® at Churchill Downs®

Come enjoy “the most exciting 2 minutes in sports”! Derby Experiences is proud to be The Official Experience Package Provider to Churchill Downs® for the Kentucky Oaks® and the Kentucky Derby®. Offering a variety of experience packages which include premium open bar, gourmet food services, celebrity appearance, lavish accommodations and more.  Gain exclusive access to our VIP Fillies and Lillies party at the Kentucky Derby Museum with a live performance by Clint Black and a private bourbon lounge, you won’t want to miss it!

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Topics: Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs, 2017 Kentucky Derby

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About the Bloggers

Kristen Doolan

Kristen Doolan was born and raised a Florida State Seminole. Making her way from Florida to North Carolina, Kristen achieved her B.S. in Business Administration, Marketing at The University of North Carolina Wilmington. She is an avid traveler, college football addict, beach bum and loves spending time with her family and friends. 


Jazzy Morgan

Jazzy Morgan is originally from London, England and a die-hard Manchester United Fan. She grew up in Connecticut and made the move down south in 2011 where she attended Winthrop University and received her B.S. in Family & Consumer Sciences and a minor in Marketing. Jazzy enjoys traveling, working out, reading her monthly Vogue & Cosmo and keeping up with fashion trends.


Evan Chronis

Evan Chronis was born in Omaha, Nebraska but has made his home in south Charlotte for almost two decades. A Tar Heel born and bred, Evan received his B.A in Media and Journalism from UNC-Chapel Hill. He is an avid Boston sports fan thanks to his family’s New England roots, and a fanboy of Wes Anderson films.