Kentucky Derby History

How the Kentucky Derby Started

In 1872, Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr., grandson of William Clark of the Lewis and Clark expedition, traveled to England, visiting Epsom in Surrey where The Derby had been running annually since 1780. From there, Clark went on to Paris, France, where in 1863, a group of racing enthusiasts had formed the French Jockey Club and had organized the Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp, which at the time was the greatest race in France.  Returning home to Kentucky, Clark organized the Louisville Jockey Club for the purpose of raising money to build quality racing facilities just outside the city. The track would soon become known as Churchill Downs, named for John and Henry Churchill, who provided the land for the racetrack. Officially, the racetrack was incorporated as Churchill Downs in 1937.