The Kentucky Derby: How the Run for the Roses Became America's Premier Sporting Event

The Kentucky Derby: How the Run for the Roses Became America's Premier Sporting Event

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by James C. Nicholson
     
 

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Each year on the first Saturday in May, the world turns its attention to the twin spires of Churchill Downs for the high-stakes excitement of the "greatest two minutes in sports," the Kentucky Derby. No American sporting event can claim the history, tradition, or pageantry that the Kentucky Derby holds. For more than 130 years, spectators have been fascinated by

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Overview

Each year on the first Saturday in May, the world turns its attention to the twin spires of Churchill Downs for the high-stakes excitement of the "greatest two minutes in sports," the Kentucky Derby. No American sporting event can claim the history, tradition, or pageantry that the Kentucky Derby holds. For more than 130 years, spectators have been fascinated by the magnificent horses that run the Louisville track. Thoroughbreds such as Secretariat and Barbaro have earned instant international fame, along with jockeys such as Isaac Murphy, Ron Turcotte, and Calvin Borel. The Kentucky Derby: How the Run for the Roses Became America's Premier Sporting Event calls this great tradition to post and illuminates its history and culture.

Rising from its humble beginnings as an American variation of England's Epsom Derby, the Kentucky Derby became a centerpiece of American sports and the racing industry, confirming Kentucky's status as the Horse Capital of the World. James C. Nicholson argues that the Derby, at its essence, is a celebration of a place, existing as a connection between Kentucky's mythic past and modern society. The Derby is more than just a horse race -- it is an experience enhanced by familiar traditions, icons, and images that help Derby fans to understand Kentucky and define themselves as Americans. Today the Kentucky Derby continues to attract international attention from royalty, celebrities, racing fans, and those who simply enjoy an icy mint julep, a fabulous hat, and a wager on who will make it to the winner's circle.

Nicholson provides an intriguing and thorough history of the Kentucky Derby, examining the tradition, spectacle, culture, and evolution of the Kentucky Derby -- the brightest jewel of the Triple Crown.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
An efficient examination of the "Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports." As Nicholson, the scion of a genuine Kentucky horse-breeding family, points out, the Kentucky Derby is as much about colorful colonels, pretty ladies and mint juleps as it is about starting gates, furlongs and Thoroughbreds--maybe even more so. Since its inception in 1875, the great race run annually at Churchill Downs has been understood as an experience, a yearly celebration of a very particular time and place in the nation's storied history. Whether or not that time or place ever truly existed, writes the author, is immaterial. In fact, it is the malleable nature of the Derby--perhaps best exemplified by the juxtaposition of its notoriously raucous infield and its extravagantly affluent grandstand--that is its greatest strength. Although rooted in a suspect antebellum tradition, the Derby still somehow manages to epitomize whatever the prevailing view of America happens to be at the time. "These values are not static; they evolve, disappear, and resurface at the whim of the pervading cultural, political, and social climate," Nicholson writes. Keen observations like this prove to be consistently powerful throughout the book, as the author touches on everything from the scandalous demise of celebrated black jockeys to the heavy influence of powerful Middle-Eastern sheiks. The winning horses, of course, are never far from the spotlight. All the great Kentucky Derby champions are here, from Aristides to Secretariat to Smarty Jones. Despite their many heroic exploits on the track, Nicholson's focus falls beyond the thundering hoof beats that speed past Churchill Downs' iconic twin spires each spring. A perceptive history of "Kentucky's mythic past and modern society" and how the Derby has helped fans "experience Kentucky and…make meaning of themselves as Americans."
T. Rees Shapiro
Through scrupulous research, Nicholson clearly describes how the Derby has transformed from "a pipsqueak Dixie picnic," in the words of Time magazine, to a major U.S. sporting event of the same caliber as the Masters tournament and the Indianapolis 500…Nicholson's book will appeal to anyone interested in learning about Kentucky and its Derby.
—The Washington Post
From the Publisher

"[...] James C. Nicholson's The Kentucky Derby: How the Run for the Roses Became America's Premier Sporting Event skillfully explores how popular media and collective memories reinvent the past, invent regional culture, and transform in response to larger social and political changes.

This book is a quick read but not a shallow one; it is filled with historical information and analysis of the event that is central to the identity of Kentucky and important to the public image of America." -- Indiana Magazine of History

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780813135762
Publisher:
University Press of Kentucky
Publication date:
03/15/2012
Pages:
296
Product dimensions:
6.36(w) x 9.06(h) x 0.96(d)

Meet the Author

James C. Nicholson recently received a PhD in history from the University of Kentucky.

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