17 Essential Talking Points on the Kentucky Derby

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In advance of Saturday's Kentucky Derby, here's our three-minute guide to the most exciting two minutes in sports.

1. The first Kentucky Derby was run in 1875. It was the brainchild of Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr., who wanted to create an American answer to England’s Epsom Derby.
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2. Clark’s name wasn’t just a fanciful tribute; he was the grandson of William Clark of Lewis-and-Clark fame.
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3. Thirteen of the inaugural field’s 15 jockeys were African American.
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4. In fact, black jockeys won 15 of the first 28 runnings of the Derby, including the first one. Around the turn of the century, racism crept into the sport, and no black jockey has won the Derby since 1902.
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5. A compact frame is a must for jockeys, but they need to be quick in the dressing room, too. Because jockeys have to wear unique silks for each horse they ride, a day of races may require a dozen wardrobe changes.
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6. Horse names aren’t the free-for-all they seem to be. Names can be no more than 18 characters long, must not consist solely of numbers or initials, and can’t be in poor taste or have obvious commercial connections.
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7. Horse names weren’t always so outlandish. The 1916 Derby winner went by George Smith.
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8. That’s the name of the horse, not the jockey.
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9. Owners can swipe another horse’s moniker as long as it’s not currently racing or established as an all-time great.
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10. The winner’s garland of roses was introduced in 1932. It features 554 red roses on a green satin backing.
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11. There’s at least one good reason to look a racehorse in the mouth. Since 1947, thoroughbreds have received coded tattoos inside their upper lips to help keep them straight.
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12. The Derby runs for 1.25 miles or, in racing-speak, 10 furlongs.
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13. The furlong, equal to 660 feet (one-eighth of a mile), originally referred to the length of the furrow running along a plowed field in Anglo-Saxon times.
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14. You’re in good company if you toss back a mint julep or four during the Derby. John Milton made one of the earliest written references to a “cordial julep” in his 1634 play “Comus.”
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15. American racehorses could throw a killer group birthday party. No matter their actual date of birth, thoroughbreds are considered one year older on January 1.
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16. Big money’s at stake in the Derby; in 2013, bettors threw down $130.5 million in wagers.
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17. This year’s purse is $2.2 million, enough to buy a lot of delicious apples.

This article originally appeared in mental_floss magazine. Get a risk-free free issue!

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May 2, 2014 - 4:00pm
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