The 143rd Running of the Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby is one of the most poignant rituals in America. In this special Derby Day posting, we revel in its history and tradition.
The 143rd Running of the Kentucky Derby
By: George Noga – May 6, 2017
      Although you’re probably not into thoroughbred racing, you nevertheless watch the Kentucky Derby – the most exciting two minutes in sports – because it is a rich and enduring part of our heritage. There is nothing in America quite like the University of Louisville Marching Band playing and 150,000 people singing My Old Kentucky Home, the lyrics of which are included in this posting to help you to sing along.
The sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home,
Tis summer, the people are gay;
The corn-top’s ripe and the meadow’s in the bloom
While the birds make music all the day.
     Let’s begin with some history. In the early part of the nineteenth century, Kentucky was the Detroit of the equine world. The Civil War severely damaged its horse breeding industry because armies on both sides of the war simply requisitioned horses, i.e. took them without payment. When the war ended, there were no horses remaining in Kentucky. Historical note: more horses died in the war than soldiers.
    In 1872 Kentucky horse breeders wanted to attract attention to their revived business and approached a prominent Louisvillian, Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr. for assistance. Clark was grandson of William Clark of Lewis and Clark fame and a grandnephew of George Rogers Clark, a Revolutionary War hero and a founder of Louisville. Clark’s idea was an annual horse race featuring the fastest thoroughbreds extant and the first race, i.e. the first Kentucky Derby, was held on May 17, 1875 at Churchill Downs.
The young folks roll on the little cabin floor
All merry, all happy and bright;
By’n by hard times comes a knocking at the door
Then my old Kentucky home Good-night!
      The song My Old Kentucky Home was played as early as 1921 for the 47th Derby. It was written by Stephen Douglas (the Father of American Music) in 1853 and was inspired by Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The Commonwealth of Kentucky adopted it as the state song in 1928 and the Kentucky legislature officially altered the song’s lyrics in 1986 to change some offensive words.
      The Derby is pregnant with tradition and sometimes is referred to as “The Run for the Roses“, referring to the horseshoe-shaped garland given the winner since 1896 that contains 400 red roses with the Kentucky seal on one end and the Twin Spires of Churchill Downs along with the number of years on the other. The garland measures 122 inches by 22 inches and weighs 40 pounds.
Weep no more my lady. Oh! Weep no more today!
We will sing one song for my old Kentucky home
For the old Kentucky home, far away.
     Later today, kick back with your mint julep (Kentucky whiskey, sugar, water, mint and crushed ice); don your colorful wide-brimmed hat and join in singing My Old Kentucky Home as the horses make their way to the post for the 1.25 mile race to try for Secretariat’s 1973 record of 1:59:40. The Kentucky Derby is not only the most exciting two minutes in sports but also one of most cherished traditions in America.

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