Jockey Willie Shoemaker (1931-) made it to the finish line first in the 1986 Kentucky Derby with his horse, Ferdinand. "When you're riding," Shoemaker said, "only the race in which you're riding is important."
On this day in 1875, Louisville's Churchill Downs officially opened and became the home of the Kentucky's famous flat-racing track, which was built by Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr. (grandson of the explorer) to rival England's Epsom Derby.
Clark wanted to showcase Kentucky's horses. Throughout history, the "Run for the Roses," named after the stunning blanket of 554 red roses awarded to the winning horse, has become the passionate centerpiece of Thoroughbred racing.
"Nothing that lives has more real, true courage than the heart of a great racehorse," praised Kentucky Governor Edwin P. Morrow in 1922.
The Derby's winner circle is the first jewel in the Triple Crown classic races (Preakness and Belmont are the other two). Many have tried, but only 11 horses have won all three.
Called "the most exciting two-minutes in sports" the annual 1-1/4- mile Derby is held on the first Saturday in May and was first televised nationally in 1952. Churchill Downs with its famous white-framed grandstand was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1986. By 1996 the purse for the race had reached a cool $1 million.
"I feel like I can fly," said jubilant jockey Kent Desormeaux after his Derby win (2000) with his favored colt Fusaichi Pegasus. "Every time I ride him, he becomes more attentive and more like a pony. We've become one."
Song: Run For the Roses
Get there first.