If you answered “none,” then you’re smarter than the average fifth-grader, and way smarter than the average two-dollar bettor. That’s right, the Kentucky Derby is a race for three-year olds; and we call them “colts,” or “fillies” (with an occasional “gelding,” about which, more, later). Baby horses are called “foals,” and last year there were approximately 22,500 thoroughbred foals registered in the United States (down from 40,333 registered in 1990). A handful of these two-year olds will make it into Saturday’s 139th running of the Kentucky Derby.
A colt is a young male horse, under the age of four. The term "colt" is often confused with foal, which refers to a horse of either sex under one year of age. An adult male horse if left intact is called either a "stallion" or a horse (sometimes full horse); if castrated, it is called a gelding. A young female horse is called a filly until age four, and a mare thereafter.
The modern thoroughbred is a breed of horse whose ancestry traces back to three foundation sires: the Darley Arabian, the Godolphin Arabian, and the Byerly Turk. Named after their respective owners—Thomas Darley, Lord Godolphin and Captain Robert Byerley (the second e was accidently dropped)—these three stallions were brought to England from the Middle East around the turn of the 17th century and bred to the stronger, but less precocious, native horse.
The result was an animal that could carry weight with sustained speed over extended distances, qualities that brought a new dimension to the burgeoning, aristocratically supported sport of horse racing. (That’s why we call it “The Sport of Kings.”) So began a selective breeding process that has been going on for more than 300 years; breeding the best stallions to the best mares, with the proof of excellence being established on the racecourse.
The Kentucky Derby is a Grade I stakes race for three year-old thoroughbreds, held annually in Louisville, Kentucky, on the first Saturday in May, capping the two-week-long Kentucky Derby Festival and is widely considered the most prestigious horse race in the world. The race is one and a quarter miles at Churchill Downs. Colts and geldings carry 126 pounds and fillies 121 pounds. The race is known in the United States as "The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports" or "The Fastest Two Minutes in Sports" for its approximate duration, and is also called "The Run for the Roses" for the blanket of roses draped over the winner. It is the first leg of the United States Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing and is followed by the Preakness Stakes then the Belmont Stakes. The attendance at the Kentucky Derby ranks first in North America and usually surpasses the attendance of all other stakes races including the Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes and the Breeders' Cup.
And the racehorse industry is good for Kentucky. According to the American Horse Council:
- The Kentucky horse industry produces goods and services valued at $2.3 billion.
- The national industry has a $3.5 billion impact on the Kentucky economy when the multiplier effect of spending by industry suppliers and employees is taken into account. Accounting for off-site spending of spectators would result in an even higher figure.
- 194,300 Kentuckians are involved in the industry as horse owners, service providers, employees, and volunteers. Even more participate as spectators.
- The Kentucky horse industry directly provides 51,900 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs. Spending by suppliers and employees (in Kentucky and other states) generates additional jobs in Kentucky for a total employment impact of 96,000.
- There are 320,200 horses in Kentucky, over 50 percent of which are involved in showing and recreation.
Have you been taking notes? Remember these facts and figures, and you can impress your friends. And, come Saturday, May 4, 2013, there will be a test.
Photo credits: American Horse Council, Churchill Downs, Anigifs