Classic Kentucky Derby

The most exciting two minutes in sports take place at Churchill Downs on Saturday, with the running of the 2011 Kentucky Derby. See our photos of legendary horses, stars, and distinctive hats—that have graced the classic over the decades—along with the official mint julep recipe.

Bettman / Corbis

Bettman / Corbis

Old Kentucky Home

Since 1875, Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, has hosted "the most exciting two minutes in sports," the Kentucky Derby. Also known as "The Run for the Roses"—for the blanket of 554 roses the winning horse receives—the race is 1 1/4 miles long and features 3-year-old thoroughbreds. The Derby is also the first jewel in horse racing's Triple Crown—the others are the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. No horse has won all three since Affirmed, in 1978.

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Derby Legends

Jockeys Bill Hartack, left, and Eddie Arcaro share the record for most wins (five) at the Kentucky Derby. Arcaro, who died in 1997 at the age of 81, is widely considered the greatest jockey of all time, and is the only rider to have won the Triple Crown twice. Hartack, who died in 2007, never won the Triple Crown, but rode an impressive 4,272 winners in 21,535 mounts.

Getty Images

"Come On, Needles!"

Bonnie Heath and Jackson Dudley, co-owners of Needles, cheer on their horse at the 1956 Derby. Needles, who had pneumonia as a foal and was named for all the vaccinations he received, won the race and that year's Belmont. In 1957, he retired to stud in Florida and is credited with launching the state's breeding boom.

Jerry Cooke / Corbis; Mike Simons / Getty Images

The Mint Julep

For nearly a century, the mint julep has been the cocktail of choice at Churchill Downs, with more than 120,000 served during Derby week. Though the drink is traditionally made with bourbon, the official recipe calls for Kentucky whisky.

Early Times Mint Julep

• 2 cups sugar
• 2 cups water
• Sprigs of fresh mint
• Crushed ice
• Early Times Kentucky Whisky
• Silver Julep Cups

Make a simple syrup by boiling sugar and water together for five minutes. Cool and place in a covered container with six or eight sprigs of fresh mint, then refrigerate overnight. Make one julep at a time by filling a julep cup with crushed ice, adding one tablespoon of mint syrup and two ounces of Early Times Kentucky Whisky. Stir rapidly with a spoon to frost the outside of the cup. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.

FPG / Getty Images

Toots and "Baby"

Celebrities have always been drawn to the Derby. In 1959, legendary New York restaurateur Toots Shor attended with his wife, Marion (aka "Baby"). The renowned saloon keeper counted many sportsmen, writers, and movie stars among his friends and customers. According to folklore about the saloon, one night Shor said to Yankee catcher Yogi Berra, "I want you to meet Ernest Hemingway, an important writer." And Berra reportedly replied, "What paper you with, Ernie?"

Alfred Eisenstaedt, Time & Life Pictures / Getty Images

Beautician and the Beast

In 1959, cosmetics tycoon Elizabeth Arden took a hands-on approach at the Derby, where she went to see one of her horses run. Since the 1940s, Arden owned one of the premier thoroughbred stables, Maine Chance Farm, which produced the 1947 Kentucky Derby winner, Jet Pilot.

AP Photo

"Big Red"

In 1973, Secretariat became the first horse in 25 years (since Citation in 1948) to win the Triple Crown. In the first leg at the Derby, Big Red (ridden by jockey Ron Turcotte) set a record time of 1:59 2/5, which stands to this day. ESPN named the horse among the 100 most important athletes of the 20th century, and a 2010 movie was made about Secretariat's life starring Diane Lane and John Malkovich.

Bettmann / Corbis

Seattle Slew

Four years after Secretariat, Seattle Slew won the Derby on his way to the Triple Crown—the only horse in history to accomplish it while undefeated. Upon Slew's death in 2002, trainer Billy Turner paid tribute to one of the greatest thoroughbreds of all time, saying: "He was a good student with tremendous energy and phenomenal ability. All I had to do was control it. ... He had blinding speed and burning determination. My job was to get him to accept competition and other horses."

AP Photo (2); Getty Images (2)


Like England's Royal Ascot, the Kentucky Derby brings out some magnificent millinery every year. And one mantra has always held true—the bigger, the brighter, the better.

AP Photo

Victory at Last

In 1992, Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day pulled off one of the Derby's greatest upsets aboard Lil E. Tee, a thoroughbred that was once rejected for sale. Coming from far behind—the horse was tenth after a half-mile—Day pushed Lil E. Tee past Arazi in the homestretch to win his only Kentucky Derby among 8,804 career victories, fourth on the all-time list.

AP Photos

Derby Diehards

Wearing a fancy straw hat is one thing, but for many Derby regulars, creating one has become a tradition. The superfan at left celebrates the iconic spires at Churchill Downs with a hat he has worn for more than a quarter century, while others pay homage to the horses, the roses, and of course, the mint juleps.

Jeff Gentner / Getty Images; Darron Cummings / AP Photo; Gail Kamendish / AP Photo

More Hats!

Actress Rebecca Romijn at Churchill Downs in 2010; Jessica Simpson attended the Derby in 2004 with then-husband Nick Lachey (who has since brought along his fiancee, Vanessa Minnillo); and Brooke Shields sported a blue lagoon atop her head in 2009.

Jerry Cooke / Corbis

The Lady Is a Champ

In its 137-year history, the Kentucky Derby has been won by a filly only three times. In 1980, Genuine Risk became the first mare to win the race since Regret in 1915—Winning Colors in 1988 is the third filly—and she went on to finish second in the Preakness and Belmont. In 1982, after Genuine Risk retired, she was mated with Secretariat, but alas, the two champions failed to produce a foal.

AP Photo

The Run for the…Presidency

In 2000, then-presidential candidate George W. Bush made a campaign stop at the Derby with his father. Seven other men who went on to become president have attended the race, none more so than Gerald Ford, who was a Churchill Downs regular for nearly a decade after he left the White House.

AP Photo

The Sport of Kings—and a Queen

In 1930, the 17th Earl of Derby (from whose name the race term derives) became the first British nobleman to attend Churchill Downs. Since then, other members of the royal family, including the Duke of Windsor and Princess Margaret, have made appearances. And in 2007, Queen Elizabeth II—a lifelong horse racing enthusiast—took in her first Kentucky Derby. But the queen wasn't the only royalty to attend that year. NASCAR's king, Richard Petty, was also in attendance. "I don't know if I could talk to her because I don't speak English," Petty joked with reporters before the visit. "I speak Southern American, and I don't know if she would understand that or not."

Jeff Gentner / Getty Images

And Still More Hats!

Why should women have all the fun with whimsical hats on Derby Day? In 2010, singer Joey Fatone's black-and-white straw number was in sync with skater Johnny Weir's wider-brimmed version.

Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun, MCT / Getty Images

The Winner—by a Tongue

In 2010, jockey Calvin Borel won a record third Derby in four years aboard Super Saver, who clearly savored the victory. Five months later, the horse was retired to begin his next career—as a stud.