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The KentuckyDerby

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There is something different about the rolling hills of Kentucky, the Bluegrass state, and part of it is the horse farms.

How Many Horses Call the Bluegrass State Home? Now We Know | WKU ...

Daniel Boone recognized this state and said, “Soon after, I returned home to my family, with a determination to bring them as soon as possible to live in Kentucky, which I esteemed a second paradise, at the risk of my life and fortune.”

My dad obviously felt the same way about his home state. Each year, as we passed from Tennessee to Kentucky, on the way to my grandmother’s house, he would shout loudly in celebration. He taught us to celebrate it, too, as he drove through Cumberland Gap.

Driving through the Gap and following the footsteps of Daniel Boone made for some fun memories.

My first Derby party memory is of listening to it on a big radio at Mirror Lake Farm. That was at Lulu’s house. Critt and I stood with her around that console and tried to sing “My Old Kentucky Home.” When it was announced “the winner is,” we jumped up and down and shouted. My grandmother led us in celebrating.

This is Barbaro who won in 2006.

Barbaro, ridden by Edgar Prado, racing across the finish line to win the 132nd Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S., May 2006.

I wish I could remember what year this was, but maybe that doesn’t matter. Mother and Daddy were at the Derby in Louisville, and I learned that my family really liked horses and the Derby.


2015 Belmont StakesAmerican Pharoah won the Derby and the Triple Crown in 2015.

The Kentucky Derby was started by Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr., grandson of explorer William Clark, of Lewis and Clark Expedition fame. Clark, who was inspired by horse races he’d seen in Europe, raised the money to build Churchill Downs on land donated by his uncles, Henry and John Churchill.

 Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr

In 1872, Clark traveled to Europe, where he visited leading horse-racing sites in England and France. He was inspired by England’s Epsom Downs racecourse, home since 1780 of the Derby Stakes, a 1.5-mile race for three-year-old horses organized by the 12th earl of Derby and his friends.

Famed for throwing extravagant parties, Clark envisioned his racetrack as a place where the city’s stylish residents would gather.

On May 17, 1875, some 10,000 people attended the first Kentucky Derby, which featured a field of 15 three-year-old thoroughbreds racing 1.5 miles. The winning horse, Aristides, finished with a time of 2:37.75 and was ridden by Oliver Lewis, an African-American jockey.


In 1902, a new management team took over Churchill Downs that included Martin “Matt” Winn, a Louisville native and larger-than-life promoter who was instrumental in transforming the Derby from a local event into America’s most iconic horse race.

Winn started the publicity-generating practice of inviting celebrities to the Derby, and advocated broadcasting the race on the radio, something other racing executives thought would hurt attendance numbers.

In 1925, the Derby aired on network radio for the first time; and afterward, attendance continued to grow. 1949 marked the first year the Derby was locally televised. Three years later, in 1952, the Kentucky Derby made its debut on national TV. The rest is history, and my family never missed gathering on Derby Day.

In 1973, Secretariat became the fastest Derby winner in history with a time of 1:59.40, a record that still stands. The story of Big Red was told in the movie “Secretariat,” and it is an inspiring movie.

So, tomorrow we won’t host a Kentucky Derby party or watch it on TV. I will miss all the hoopla, as well as the stories about the horses, the owners, riders, and trainers, fascination with all the hats, and standing to sing “My Old Kentucky Home.”

Bob Lewis said, “To win the Kentucky Derby is the goal of every trainer, every hot-walker, every backside person. They may be rubbing on a horse, or hot-walking a horse, but they wonder if they could win the Kentucky Derby.”

Looking forward to next year!


“And They’re Off!”

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It’s Derby week in Louisville, in Kentucky, in the United States, and in the world! What a history this one horse race has.

Dating back to 1875, the Kentucky Derby is the longest running sporting event in the United States. During two world wars and the Great Depression, this race was still run by three-year-old Thorougbreds.

Meriwether Lewis Clark, the grandson of William Clark – famous for the Lewis and Clark expedition, attended the Epsom Derby in England. This horse race had been run since 1780. He then traveled to France and hobnobbed with the French Jockey Club.

Returning to America, he brought back a dream for a spectacular horse race in America. John and Henry Churchill, two of his uncles gave him the land to develop a racetrack. The Louisville Jockey Club was formed, and they raised the funds to build the racetrack. Fifteen horses, on May 17, 1875, raced one-and-a-half miles to the cheers of around 10,000 spectators. Aristides won, and the rest is history.

Traditions have multiplied through the years, as has the popularity of this event. Beautiful hats vie with the magnificent horses. Mint juleps are mixed and sold by the thousands; silver and pewter mint julep cups are listed on bridal registries. Standing to sing “My Old Kentucky Home” by Stephen Foster is a stirring and enthusiastic activity. Red roses crown the winner.

This Saturday we will gather in our home to watch the most exciting two minutes in sports. As Daddy taught us, we will stand to sing “My Old Kentucky Home.” There will be red roses on the table. Leaning forward, we will wait for the words, “And they’re off!” And after the race, we will celebrate the winner with Derby pie.

Family traditions are varied. For us, we are now teaching the fourth generation to enjoy the Kentucky Derby.

Aren’t family traditions the best? Yesterday, for lunch, I served my grandmother’s spaghetti casserole, Mom’s lime pie, and my banana pudding. On the table were my great grandmother’s pink peonies. Family traditions help to define us and give us a sense of being a part of those we know and those we don’t know.

Cookie Monster loves cookies, and I like what he says about friends. I believe this applies to families, too.

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May Events:
May 10 – Kings Mountain Chapter NSDAR
May 12 – Star Fort Chapter NSDAR
May 24 – Mt Ariel Chapter NSDAR
May 28 – Colonial Faire in Fountain Inn