May 17, 1875
The First Kentucky Derby
On May 17, 1875, the horse, Aristides, and his rider, Oliver Lewis, crossed the finish line ahead of the rest of the field at the first ever Kentucky Derby. The horse’s owner, H.P. McGrath, and a roaring crowd in the stands looked on. Aristides, a Thoroughbred named after an ancient Greek general, earned extra alfalfa that day in Louisville. What would you have seen in Louisville that first race day?
You might have seen well-groomed Thoroughbreds–a cross between Arabian stallions and European mares–along with 15 fine jockeys, 14 of whom, including Oliver Lewis, were African American. You also would have seen cheering crowds sitting anxiously in the bleachers around the track built in 1874 by Meriweather Lewis Clark.