If it's the first Saturday in May, it has to be the running of the Kentucky Derby. And to make it even more exciting this year, the classic horse race falls on May 5 - the day of celebration known as Cinco de Mayo. The 138th running of the "greatest two minutes in sports" takes place at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, and is the first leg of racing's Triple Crown. The Preakness follows two weeks after the Derby at the Pimlico Race Track in Maryland and the Belmont Stakes, in New York, are 3 weeks after that, the last and longest of the three races. The last Triple Crown winner was Affirmed in 1978.
Animal Kingdom was the 2011 winner of the Kentucky Derby, ridden by John Velaquez (his first derby win). An attendance record was set last year, with 164,858 race fans on hand to catch the Run for the Roses.
Here are some interesting bits of trivia about this storied race:
- The length of the track is 1.25 miles (changed from 1.5 miles in 1896).
- All horses running in the derby are 3-year-olds.
- The first filly to win was Regret in 1915, followed by Genuine Risk in 1980 and Winning Colors in 1988 (she is also the only roan-colored horse to win).
- The winningest jockeys are Eddie Arcaro (including 2 Triple Crown victories) and Bill Hartack (each rider won 5 Kentucky Derbys). The oldest jockey to win was Bill Shoemaker, who won his fourth derby on Ferdinand in 1986 at the age of 54. Shoemaker also rode in the most derbys, with 26 mounts.
- The largest field was the 100the running in 1974, with 23 horses entered. The smallest fields occurred in both 1892 and 1905, with only 3 horses entered.
- The fastest time goes to Secretariat in 1973, who crossed the finish line in a time of 1:59:40, the only horse ever to complete the race in under 2 minutes.
- The grounds of Churchill Downs has 47 barns with a capactiy to hold 1424 horses, and a dorm/tackroom which can accommodate up to 501 riders.
- Red roses became the official flower of the derby in 1904, with the winning horse receiving a garland of over 400 roses in the winner's circle. The winning jocket receives a bouquet of 60 long-stemmed red roses.
- Some other well-known traditions of the Kentucky Derby - Mint Juleps, ladies' hats, the Infield, the playing of My Old Kentucky Home, and the Twin Spires of the grandstand.
For books on horses and horse racing at WPPL, look for Dewey numbers 798.2-798.43.
Featured book: The Kentucky Derby: How the Run for the Roses Became America's Premier Sporting Event - by James C. Nicholson (798.4 N626 K - 2012) "Nicholson provides an intriguing and thorough history of the Kentucky Derby, examining the tradition, spectacle, culture, and evolution of the Kentucky Derby - the brightest jewel of the Triple Crown."
National Hockey League and the Stanley Cup
Playoffs are underway for the National Hockey League Championship, with the winning team receiving the coveted Stanley Cup, the oldest trophy awarded in North American sports. The playoffs include the Conference Quarterfinals, Semifinals, and Finals before the Eastern and Western Conference Champions play for the Stanley Cup in the best-of-seven series. The defending champions are the Boston Bruins.
The Stanley Cup trophy itself is probably more famous than any of the teams that have won it. It's been awarded to the winning NHL team since 1927, but was first presented to a Canadian Hockey team in 1893. It is almost 3 feet tall and weighs over 35 pounds. Unlike most trophies, it has the names of virtually every player, coach, and owner of a winning team engraved on it - over 2200 names and counting. Every 13 years another ring is added to the bottom of the trophy so more winners' names can be added.
Perhaps the most interesting tradition about the trophy is that every player and member of the staff of the winning team is given a day to spend with the Cup (100 days in all for the winning team). Stories of where the cup has gone and how it has been used are famous (or infamous) and have led the NHL to assign a "body guard" to accompany the trophy on it's journey.
Indianapolis 500 - the 96th race is scheduled for Sunday, May 27. The defending champion, Dan Wheldon, was tragically killed during the final IndyCar race of 2011.
NBA Championship - playoffs begin April 28. Defending champions - The Dallas Mavericks (who defeated the Miami Heat 4 games to 2!).