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Kentucky Derby
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  • States:
    New York
    South Carolina

The blossoming of springtime rosebuds ushers in Kentucky’s Run for the Roses at the historic Churchill Downs in Louisville and the first leg of the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing — an annual event each spring since 1875.

Though the Triple Crown is the most famous racing series in the U.S., the tradition of thoroughbred racing dates back to 1665. Today, 32 states host live horse racing throughout the year. Follow our guide to catch the very best in U.S. horse racing.

The Race for the Triple Crown

The Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland, and the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York, make up the three-part racing series.

Commonly known as the Triple Crown, the series takes place throughout May and June each year. To secure the Triple Crown champion title, a 3-year-old horse must win all three “jewels” in the series. To date, only 12 horses have won the series, including the world-famous racer Secretariat, who still holds the record for the fastest time on the Kentucky Derby track at 1 minute and 59.4 seconds.

Each race draws crowds of tens of thousands. Women don elaborate hats, men dress in pastels and each event also has its own unique traditions. Louisville hosts the two-week Kentucky Derby Festival prior to the race. Attendees may take part in a steamboat race, a marathon and one of the largest display of fireworks in North America. Preakness hosts a number of events the week prior to the race, like the Pre-Preakness Party and the Infield Fest, which includes music concerts and other activities.

Kentucky is famous for its bourbon, and the mint julep is fittingly the Kentucky Derby’s official drink. This signature cocktail is a mix of bourbon, mint and sugar syrup. The Preakness and Belmont stakes have followed suit with their own official drinks: the Black-Eyed Susan (inspired by the official flower of the same name) and the Belmont Jewel, respectively.

Preakness Stakes

Preakness Stakes
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Place Your Bets on Other Tracks

While the Triple Crown is arguably the  premier series in the USA, exciting races are held throughout the year at some of the world’s most famous race tracks!

  • Camden, South Carolina’s Springdale Race Course hosts two annual steeplechases: The Carolina Cup in March and the Colonial Cup in November.
  • Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California, is considered to be one of the most beautiful race tracks in the world because of the nearby San Gabriel Mountains. The venue is home to Santa Anita Derby and the Santa Anita Handicap.
  • Arlington Park sits just outside of Chicago in Arlington Heights, Illinois,  and features a six-story grandstand. In 1981 the venue was the site of the first thoroughbred race with a $1 million purse.
  • Opening Day at Del Mar in Del Mar, California, has taken place each July since 1937. The Del Mar racetrack is the second largest in the western U.S.
  • Foxfield Races in Charlottesville, Virginia, first started in 1978 and hosts bi-annual events in April and September.

After experiencing the “greatest two minutes in sports” at the Kentucky Derby, be sure to fill your itinerary with other exciting events during your stay.

Horse Racing in the USA

Horse Racing in the USA
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