Top 10 Kentucky Derby Horses Facts

As a new fan of the racetrack, you can begin to explore the horses of the Kentucky Derby and start to feel overwhelmed.  Thankfully, getting your feet wet is as easy as learning a few basic facts everyday.  Whether you are taking up a new hobby or learning about Churchill Downs for your first trip to the Kentucky Derby, it pays to know a little about the horses first.

1 How big is an average Kentucky Derby Horse?

When people discuss the measurement of horses, they will give you these figures as “hands.”  An average horse for the Kentucky Derby will be between 15.2 to 16.9 hands.  The actual length of a hand is set at 4 inches.  This means that a 16-hand horse is 64 inches (5’ 3”) from hoof to the top of the shoulders.  Since a jockey generally tries to limit their weight to 115 pounds, this usually means they are about as tall as their horse.

2 Why do Kentucky Derby horses get flowers?

When you see pictures of prize winning horses, you immediately notice that there are many flowers.  In addition to the ones in the photo, there is usually a wreath around the horse’s neck.  Part of the reason that they always use roses in the Kentucky Derby photos is that each track has their own flower.

Outside of Churchill Downs, there are red carnations for the Travers Stakes and orchids for the Florida Derby.  However, some grand prize winning races just choose a flower of the same color instead of a specific flower and hue.

3 Who are the names of top Kentucky Derby horses?

Each year, several horses make it to the top of the list for avid track lovers.  While some are forgotten, those that go on to complete two additional races (called the Triple Crown) will come up in conversation.  For example, Secretariat and Seabiscuit both have movies made about them.  Others to note are Whirlaway, Sir Barton, Seattle Slew, and Citation.

4 Do any Kentucky Derby horses have winning streaks?

From time to time, there will be a particular horse that is well known for their performance on the track.  When this happens, you will see their name on every headline.  For the Kentucky Derby in particular, there are several horses that went on to win other major races.

Some refer to this as a winning streak, but there are always a few spots missing here and there in these tales.  Winning streak Kentucky Derby horses you might hear about are Friesan, General Quarters, Musket Man, I Want Revenge, Mr.Hot Stuff, and Regal Ransom.

5 Why does the Kentucky Derby make the horses wait?

The Kentucky Derby is always held in the city of Louisville in early May.  While it is pretty and springtime, this is a state that has more rain than others do.  When the track is wet, the workers go out and remove a lot of the water from it with specialized machinery.  Despite this, they may need to make the horses wait.  Most of the time, the race will be conducted long before 6 P.M.

6 Why do they say Kentucky Derby horses have weight problems?

All of the horses that run for the Kentucky Derby are going to be male and about 3 years old.  While each horse weighs a different amount, it is not important to remember that.  Instead, the racetrack announcer is not referring to how much the horse weighs.  They are in fact talking about how much weight the horse carries on its back.

In other words, they are referring to the jockeys and the saddle the horse is wearing.  In general, that weight is 126 pounds.  If the jockey and equipment weigh about 110 pounds altogether, they simply put an extra 16 pounds of weights on the horse’s saddle to bring it up to 126 pounds.

7 Does being a jockey for Kentucky Derby horses pay?

When a horse wins the Kentucky Derby, we are accustomed to the owner taking the big check.  However, there are many more parts to this win than the horse and the owner.  The owner also has to pay the jockey, groomers, transporters, the trainers, and barn staff.  All play an important role but the jockey does get special attention.

Usually, this means that the jockey will receive ten percent of the prize.  On the other hand, some jockeys are working on a salary with a particular horse or stable.  Considering that the Kentucky Derby purse is currently $2 million dollars, this means the jockey usually walks away with $200,000 if they win first place.

8 What happens to retired racehorses?

After a horse leaves the track behind, it usually goes on to become a stud.  This sounds like a great life of relaxation considering the strain and stress of training and racing.  Regardless, unless it is regulated by law, terrible scandals can occur.  For example, Ferdinand won the 1986 Kentucky Derby.  After awhile, he was sold to Japan.

Sadly, his ability to work as a stud had passed and this sealed his fate.  He was then sold in 2002 for human consumption.  Outrage in the U.S. sparked a movement to house these retired animals and protect them from Ferdinand’s death.  Unfortunately, the move to ban horses for food purposes was recently lifted by the federal government in the United States in December 2011.

9 Why are horses euthanized for breaking their legs?

Although it may be difficult to understand, there are plenty of good reasons why Kentucky Derby horses have been put down due to broken bones.  Mainly, this is due to the physiology of the horse.  When a human being breaks a bone, they do not need to move around very much.  This is very different for horses and certain kinds of breaks mean the horse will continue to suffer and grow ill unless it is put down.

10 Where can I go to see Kentucky Derby horses work out?

When it comes to getting the full Kentucky Derby experience, many people will want to see the horses before the race.  This is easily done by visiting the morning workouts the day of the Kentucky Derby.  Derby is held on a Saturday morning and most people have been out all night on Friday.  For this reason, you are highly likely to be only one of few people that go in to observe horses in the barn.  In order to do this, you will need to show up around 5:00 AM.