Kentucky Derby Length: How Long Is the Race at Churchill Downs?

Getty Each year the Kentucky Derby lasts approximately two minutes.

The Kentucky Derby is often referred to as the “most exciting two minutes in sports” as the 1 ¼-mile race takes about two minutes to complete from start to finish. Justify won the 2018 race with a time of 2:04.20.

Secretariat owns the Kentucky Derby record for the fastest time at 1:59.40 recorded in 1973. Secretariat and Monarchos are the only two horses to win the race with a time under two minutes, per 24/7 Wall Street. Years of preparation go into the Kentucky Derby as race teams aim to make the historic race at Churchill Downs. It only takes two minutes for dreams to be reached or for the majority of hopes to be dashed.

For many of the horses competing at the Kentucky Derby, it is the longest race that they have competed in up until this point. The length combined with an environment unlike any other is why the race is so difficult to win. Trainer Bill Mott spoke about bringing the right horses to Churchill Downs.

“I think we’re bringing horses that are really meant for a mile and a quarter and this type of race,” Mott explained to Blood Horse. “I think they fit the profile physically, mentally, and hopefully ability-wise.”

The Kentucky Derby race may only last two minutes, but it is an entire week of festivities. The 2019 Derby Day features a full slate of 14 races beginning in the morning. The Friday before the big race features the Kentucky Oaks that has the top fillies in the world competing in just one of 13 races on the eve of the Derby. For those attending Churchill Downs, there is plenty to do aside from the big race itself.


Churchill Downs Was Founded by the Grandson of William Clark of “Lewis & Clark” Fame

The grandson of William Clark, part of the Lewis and Clark exploration, Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark founded Churchill Downs in 1872, per CNN. The track did not officially open until 1875 when the first Kentucky Derby was run, making it the longest running sporting event in the United States.

The first race featured 15 horses competing in front of 10,000 fans. The idea for Churchill Downs came from Clark’s travels outside the United States as the Kentucky Derby website detailed.

Clark was inspired by his travels and experiences, and, upon his return, was determined to create a spectacle horse racing event in the States. With the help of his uncle’s John & Henry Churchill, who gifted Clark the necessary land to develop a racetrack, and by formally organizing a group of local race fans to be named the Louisville Jockey Club, Clark and his new club raised funds to build a permanent racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky. On May 17th, 1875, the racetrack opened its gates and the Louisville Jockey Club sponsored the very first Kentucky Derby. A total of fifteen three-year-old Thoroughbred horses raced one and a half miles in front of a cheering crowd of approximately 10,000 spectators. Aristides was the first winner of the Kentucky Derby.

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