Popular rider Oliver Lewis rode H. P. McGrath’s thoroughbred Aristides to victory in the first Kentucky Derby on May 17, 1875, at the Louisville Jockey Club. Fourteen of the fifteen jockeys in the derby, including Lewis, were African Americans.
The Kentucky Derby was begun by Meriwether Lewis Clark, a prominent Louisville citizen who developed the Louisville Jockey Club. Clark began construction on the race course in 1874 on land leased from two relatives, John and Henry Churchill. He patterned the Kentucky Derby after the English Classic, the Epsom Derby. The Derby, now run annually the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs, is the oldest consecutively held thoroughbred horse race in the United States. The Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes comprise the coveted Triple Crown of U.S. horse racing.
In 1773, the College of William and Mary sponsored a survey of the area that eventually became Louisville, site of the Kentucky Derby. George Rogers Clark settled there in 1778, and the town, named for Louis XVI of France, was organized in 1779. By the early 1800s, Louisville became a major port serving both the Midwest and the South. During the Civil War, it was a key supply depot for Union troops.
Every May, Louisville hosts the Kentucky Derby and the acclaimed horse show at the Kentucky State Fair. Another part of the Kentucky Derby Festival is a steamboat race on the Ohio River between Louisville and Jeffersonville, Indiana.
- The Panoramic Photographs collection features panoramic photographs of horse racing, including several of the Kentucky Derby.
- Search on Kentucky Derby in the Detroit Publishing Company collection for more images of the event.
- Search on Jockey Street in the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives collection to see images of farmers trading horses and mules in Compton, Kentucky. These black-and-white images were photographed in September 1940 by Marion Post Wolcott.
- Search the collections of maps or photographs and prints on Louisville to locate a wide variety of maps and images related to Louisville.