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19th March 2006

Kentucky Derby & The World’s Largest Equine Museum
Col. M. Lewis Clark Jr., inspired by the Epsom Derby (Englad G1) in England, inaugurated the Kentucky Derby in 1875 at his newly opened Louisville Jockey Club Course (Churchill Downs wouldn’t get its current name until 1886).  The race was designed to be the centrepice of Thoroughbred racing in Kentucky, as well as being the major social event of the year in Louisville.

The Kentucky Derby has achieved those goals and more, but it wasn’t easy.  The race was first run at 1-1/2 miles – the same as the Epsom Derby – but the distance fell out of favour with owners and breeders after several decades, and the distance was changed to its current 11-1/4 miles in 1896.  Scandal, mismanagement, and Churchill Downs’s status as a ‘western’ track also conspired to diminish the race’s stature for most of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.

Then along came Col. Matt Winn.  A native Louisvillian who witnessed the first Derby as a teenager and never missed the race until he died in 1949, Winn organised a group of buisnessmen to buy Churchill Downs and save it from closure in 1902.  By 1903, he had become general manager and his vision, enthusiasm, and personality helped bring the country’s leading three-year-old back to the Derby.
The Derby, which had been raced in mid-May for most of the early 1900’s, was moved to the first Saturday in May in 1932 and has remained there, with just a couple exceptions, ever since.  Univerisally regarded as one of the world’s leading races, the Kentucky Derby has achieved all Col. Clark envisioned, and beyond.

The World’s Largest Equine Museum

The Kentucky Derby Museum is a premier tourist attraction, featuring an award-winning, High Definition Kentucky Derby film entitled “The Greates Race”.  Displayed on a 360-degree screen, “The Greatest Race” places the viewer in the centre of Derby Day action.

A permanent exhibit features African Americans in Thoroughbred Racing, while interactive exhibits include a “Place Your Bets” exhibit that illustrates pari-mutuel wagering and the “Warner L. Jones, Jr Time Machine” that permits visitors to select footage of Derbys as far back as 1918.  Recent renovations to the museum have made it possible to bring more of the sights and sounds of the track to the facility, affording patrons the luxury to partipate in more “hands-on” activites.  One can even be a jockey and ride in a race.

Visitors can take guided walking tours of Churchill Downs and the Museum’s paddock area (weather permitting).  The actual Finish Line pole used at Churchill Down for many years, as well as the grave sites of three famous Kentucky Derby winners, Carry Back (1961), Swaps (1955) and Brokers Tip (1933) are located outside on the museum grounds.

Located on the grounds of the Churchill Downs Racetrack at 700 Central Avenue, Gate #1, the museum is open seven days a week.  The gift shop features Derby and Thoroughbred memorabilia and historical books.