By MARY BURGER – STAFF WRITER
Prepare the mint juleps, a traditional iced drink of bourbon, mint, and sugar syrup. Find the biggest hat you own. It’s horseracing time, and the Run for the Roses is about to begin. On Sat., May 3, the 140th Kentucky Derby will occur at Churchill Downs in Louisville.
The Kentucky Derby, and horse racing in general, is one of the things that Kentucky is most well-known for. The Derby has many traditions that are unique and fun for spectators. The rose is the official flower of the race; the garland of roses first appeared in 1896 when Ben Brush was awarded a floral arrangement of white and pink flowers.
Another familar sight at the Derby is the Twin Spires. The two brilliant pieces of architecture first adorned the grandstands in 1895. They were the creation of famous architect Joesph Dominic Baldez.
Perhaps the most emotionally moving part of the ceremonies, especially for Kentuckians, is the playing of “My Old Kentucky Home.” At this time, the horses first step onto the track and the crowd joins the band in singing this classic and iconic song.
In order to qualify for the race, horses must be three years old. The Kentucky Derby is the first leg on the road for the prestigious Triple Crown: the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and, finally, the Belmont Stakes.
There have been eleven Triple Crown winners, the most recent being a horse named Affirmed in 1978. The number of failed Triple Crown attempts almost doubles the number of successful attempts. I’ll Have Another, the horse that won the Derby and the Preakness in 2012, was the most recent unsuccessful Triple Crown attempt.
The road to the Churchill Downs is long and hard, with a number of races for which horses work to qualify for the pinnacle, the chance to race at the Kentucky Derby. The leading contender for the Derby victory is currently California Chrome, with 4/1 odds. He won a number of qualifying rounds to gain these odds, including the California Cup Derby, the Santa Anita Derby, the King Glorious Stakes, the San Felipe, and more.
Although his sire, Lucky Pulpit, never was a majorly successful racehorse, California Chrome has stronger racing pedigree on his mother’s side, Love the Chase. These winning genes are evident through a few Derby winners in this generational line.
Iron Liege, winner in 1957, and Clyde Van Dusen, winner in 1929, are part of this branch, as is Kauai King, a more distant relative but still a Derby superstar.
Vicar’s In Trouble, sired by Into Mischief, is also high in the running for a successful racing season. With 14/1 odds, this horse came in first place at the Louisville Derby and the Lecomte race. He also took third place at the Risen Star race.
Into Mischief also sired two other successful racehorses, Goldencents and Vyjacks, both of whom made a lot of press before the Derby of 2013. He is a decendent of Vibrant, who won several sprints and also produced two other minorly successful racehorses. His extended family includes Encolure, a horse who also won the Lecomte race and placed tenth in the 1985 Kentucky Derby.
Placing first at the Wood Memorial race and third at the Remsen race, Wicked Strong has odds of 11/1 and an incredibly strong gene pool. He was sired by Hard Spun, the 2007 runner up of the Kentucky Derby and is out of Moyne Abbey.
While the mare of Wicked Strong had few victories, she is in the line of Charismatic, the 1999 winner of the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. This strong pedigree includes a high stamina, meaning that this is one horse that will not tire easily and will be a strong contender for that garland of roses.
Horse racing is a major part of Kentucky traditions and has hosted a number of famous horse wins and famous attendees, including Her Majesty the Queen of England, Elizabeth II.
It attracts a large fan base and is truly a part of the Bluegrass’s culture. So don’t forget to mark your calendar, buy your hat, and plan your trip to Louisville, because on the first weekend of May, it’s off to the races for this great state.