The Kentucky Derby has been an American tradition since 1875. It’s a Grade I race for thoroughbred horses that are three years old, held every year in Louisville, Kentucky. The race, which is always held on the first Saturday in May, is the grand finale of the Kentucky Derby Festival. Even if you aren’t interested in horse racing, you may be surprised that the Kentucky Derby is commonly known as the Race of Roses. It’s a beautiful tradition that is made even more beautiful by the flowers that have played such an important role in the event since its inception.
The Race of Roses, also referred to as the “Run for the Roses,” gets its name because of the very special (and very beautiful) prize that is commonly given out to the winner. A gorgeous blanket of 564 red roses is given to the winner of the Kentucky Derby at the end of each race. The tradition has been around since roughly the beginning of the race, which began in 1883. E. Berry Wall, a New York socialite of the time, gave out roses to women who attended a party after the Kentucky Derby. What makes that particular event interesting is that it was attended by the founder and president of Churchill Downs, Colonel M. Lewis Clark.
Many believe that Clark witnessed E. Berry Wall’s rose-colored gesture first hand, which led to him making the rose the official flower of the Kentucky Derby. It was several years later in 1896 that the rose began to be awarded and draped around the winner of the race. The tradition has continued every year to this day and has become one of the most important parts of the event. The rose symbolizes both the beauty of the horse in question and the massive achievement for both man and animal at the end of a stiff competition.
At the end of each Kentucky Derby, the current Governor of Kentucky awards the roses to the winner along with a customary trophy. The tradition has become such an important part of the event and is so popular in general that Dan Fogelberg, popular musician and vocalist, released a song called “Run for the Roses” in 1982. It was written specifically with the event in mind and was released just in time for the running of the race that year.
A number of other traditions play an important role in the race each year. The traditional beverage of the race is the mint julep and the popular dish burgoo is commonly served to those in attendance.