Churchill Downs Racetrack

America’s most well-known horse racetrack is Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. The track’s familiarity to those that follow horseracing and to those that have only a passing interest can largely be credited to the fact that it hosts the annual running of the Kentucky Derby. Some of the greatest horses, jockeys, and trainers have competed beneath the fabled Twin Spires of Churchill Downs.

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Churchill Downs History

Churchill DownsIn 1874, John and Henry Churchill leased 80 acres to Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr., the grandson of the famed explorer, William Clark, and the very next year the new horseracing venue known as Churchill Downs hosted the first Kentucky Derby. Its location at that time was very rural and near a railroad spur which allowed for the convenient transport of horses. Clark preferred longer races, but shorter races were becoming more popular and Clark began to lose money on his venture. After running short of funds Clark sold the track in 1893 to a syndicate led by William Applegate. Applegate is responsible for many of the changes that have become synonymous with Churchill Downs. He shortened the Kentucky Derby to 1 ¼ miles, built the famous Twin Spires over the grandstand, and created the tradition of giving the Kentucky Derby winner a garland of roses.

It wasn’t until Colonel Matt Winn of Louisville took over the track in the early 1900’s that it began to establish the Kentucky Derby as America’s premier stakes race for three-year old horses. As gambling became less controversial and pari-mutuel betting was introduced to the track, the prosperity of Churchill Downs increased. Other events, including the State Fair, began to be held at the track.

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On June 5, 1907, James Lee, an African-American jockey, set a horseracing record that has never been duplicated by winning all six races on the Churchill Downs card.

Churchill Downs Today

Churchill Downs RaceChurchill Downs is still most famous for hosting the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday each May. Horseracing luminaries and celebrities of all kinds converge on Louisville during the Kentucky Derby for a week-long celebration that includes parties, concerts, and a parade.

Two race meets are held at Churchill Downs each year. The spring meet which presents the Kentucky Derby typically begins in April and lasts until June. The fall meet is runs from September through November.

Because of its legendary status, Churchill Downs has been a regular host of the Breeder’s Cup. Top jockeys that regularly compete at Churchill Downs include Calvin Borel, a three-time Kentucky Derby winner, and Corey Lanerie. Top trainers at Churchill Downs include Dale Romans, Ken McPeek, and Cecil Borel.

You can visit the Churchill Downs website here: and the address is the following: 700 Central Avenue, Louisville, KY 40208. Main phone: 502.636.4400 

Stakes Races at Churchill Downs

Grade 1

  • Clark Handicap
  • Humana Distaff Handicap
  • Kentucky Derby
  • Kentucky Oaks
  • Stephen Foster Handicap
  • Turf Classic Stakes

Grade 2

  • Chilukki Stakes
  • Churchill Downs Stakes
  • Falls City Handicap
  • Firecracker Breeders’ Cup Handicap
  • Fleur de Lis Handicap
  • Golden Rod Stakes
  • Jefferson Cup Stakes
  • Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes
  • Louisville Stakes
  • La Troienne Stakes
  • Mrs. Revere Stakes
  • Pocahontas Stakes

Grade 3

  • Ack Ack Handicap
  • Aegon Turf Sprint Stakes
  • Alysheba Stakes
  • Aristides Breeders’ Cup Stakes
  • Bashford Manor Stakes
  • Cardinal Handicap
  • Churchill Distaff Turf Mile Stakes
  • Debutante Stakes
  • American Turf Stakes
  • Dogwood Stakes
  • Mint Julep Handicap
  • Iroquois Stakes
  • Kentucky Stakes
  • Eight Belles Stakes
  • Locust Grove Handicap
  • Louisville Handicap
  • Northern Dancer Stakes
  • Regret Stakes
  • River City Handicap
  • Commonwealth Turf Stakes
  • Derby Trial Stakes

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