The biggest event of 2018 at Churchill Downs, in addition to the Kentucky Derby, will be The Breeders’ Cup World Championships. Churchill Downs has hosted this event on eight occasions previously, with the last Breeders’ Cup held in Louisville as recently as 2011. If you are a horse race enthusiast who missed the 2011 Breeders’ Cup, get your Churchill Downs tickets here and join the thousands as they root for their favorite horses on this iconic and historic racetrack.
From Lexington to Louisville: The Early History of Horse Racing in Kentucky
Owned and operated by Churchill Downs Incorporated, Churchill Downs is the longest-running continuous sporting event in the US – a record in itself.
Horse racing in Kentucky, however, predates 1875, the year Churchill Downs was opened. In 1789, the first race course opened in Lexington for race enthusiasts, breeders and people associated with horse racing in any capacity.
In 1872, Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark (who would later become the builder of Churchill Downs) traveled to France and England. While attending the Epsom Derby in England, Clark thought of having a similar race spectacle in his native Kentucky. Upon his return, he began the development of the racetrack, which today stands as Churchill Downs, “Home of the Kentucky Derby.”
Colonel Clark’s mother Abigail Prather Churchill belonged to one of the first families of Kentucky. It was the Churchills who donated eighty acres of their land on which Churchill Downs stands today. To fund his project, Clark sold subscriptions to the track. He then built six stables, Porter’s Lodge, a grandstand and a clubhouse for the opening of the track in 1875. These original structures still stand, though the race track has grown.
The racetrack’s inaugural meet attracted a huge crowd of 10,000 spectators, starting an annual ritual that now attracts over 170,000.
Churchill Downs Today
The racetrack spans 147 acres consisting of one-mile dirt, oval racetrack and a seven furlong turf race course.
Twin Spires is the most prominent structure of Churchill Downs. An architectural marvel, it sits atop the grandstand and is universally associated with the Kentucky Derby and Churchill Downs. The spires were built in 1895 and were designed by architect Joseph Dominic Baldez. They shine across the racetrack every night.
One of the reasons behind Churchill Downs longevity and popularity is its continuous renovation. Since 1875, it has undergone massive renovation projects to modernize its ageing structures and facilities. Churchill Downs now offers private luxury suits. There are integrated simulcast areas. For night-time races, permanent lights are installed all along the racetrack. The Big Board houses the world’s biggest 4k video screen.
Irrespective of its modern day amenities and offerings, Churchill Downs remain primarily famous for thoroughbred horse racing, namely:
The Kentucky Oaks is essentially the forerunner to the grand event, the Kentucky Derby. Held one Friday before the Kentucky Derby, the Kentucky Oakes is a Grade I stakes race for three-year old thoroughbred fillies. The race covers the area of 1 1/8 miles. The horses carry 121 pounds. In addition to getting a $600,000 purse, the winner is also presented with a large garland of lilies, also known as the “Lillies for the Fillies.” The winner also gets a silver Kentucky Oaks Trophy.
The most recent winner of the Kentucky Oaks is the 3-year old Abel Tasman. She is owned by the China Horse Club. She was trained by Bob Baffert and jockeyed by Mike E. Smith. She finished the race in 1:51:62 minutes. The Kentucky Oaks speed record is however held by Bird Town, who in 2003 finished the race in 1:48:64 minutes.
Known as “The Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports” the Kentucky Derby has been continuously taking place at Churchill Downs since 1875. This horse race takes place on the first Saturday in May, every year. It is a Grade I stakes race for 3-year old thoroughbreds. The horses run a distance of one and quarter miles. Fillies carry weight of 121 pounds, while geldings and colts carry weight of 126 pounds.
The Kentucky Derby is followed by Preakness Stakes and then Belmont Stakes – collectively known as the American Triple Crown. A horse must win all three races to win the Triple Crown.
The most recent winner of the Kentucky Derby is Always Dreaming. He is trained by Todd Pletcher and jockeyed by John Velazquez. In 2017, he completed the distance in 2:03:59 minutes.
In addition to getting a $2 million purse, the winner is also draped in roses, leading to the popular term “The Run for the Roses.”
The Breeders’ Cup only trails the Kentucky Derby, the Kentucky Oaks and the Preakness Stakes in attendance. Now a two-day event, it attracted approximately 118,500 attendees in 2016.
The Breeders’ Cup World Championships is operated by Breeders’ Cup Limited, a company formed in 1982. The cup was inaugurated in 1984 and remained a day-long affair till 2006. In 2007, this annual series of Grade I Thoroughbred horse races was expanded to two days. Since 1984, it has always been held in the US, the 1996 Breeders’ Cup being the only exception when it was held in Canada.
Since it is a series of races, therefore the total purse varies by race, but on the whole, $1 million to $6 million is up for grabs for the winners of the races.
In 2017, the Breeders’ Cup was held at the Del Mar Racetrack in California. A total of 13, Grade I races were held. Gun Runner’s victory in the Classic, was the highlight of the event. It made him win Horse of the Year Honors. World Approval won Mile, Roy H won Sprint and Forever Unbridled won Distaff races and as a result won divisional Eclipse Awards. There were surprise wins too – Bar of Gold with 66-1 odds was a longshot winner.
Driving Down Louisville
If you have decided to be at Churchill Downs this year, you should familiarize yourself with the establishment’s rules of entrance. Certain items are not allowed inside Churchill Downs and therefore should either be left in your vehicle or discarded. For a detailed list of those prohibited items, you should visit Churchill Downs’s website.
Free parking is available in the general parking area on a first-come, first-serve basis. Valet parking is available too, along with reserved parking for club members, suites guests, VIPs and owners. You can also reach the venue by using public transportation or taxi.
If you are new to the city and have not made prior plans of staying here, the Galt House Hotel is the Official Host Hotel of Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby. Located in the heart of downtown Louisville, the hotel offers special derby packages.
Dawn of 2018 on Churchill Downs
In 2018, Churchill Downs will host the 35th edition of the Breeders’ Cup. If you want to be there for these races along with the Kentucky Derby and the Kentucky Oaks races, then get your Churchill Downs tickets here.