A Grade 1 contest, run over 2,000 metres, or approximately a mile and a quarter, on dirt at Churchill Downs Racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky and open to three-year-old colts, fillies and geldings, the Kentucky Derby represents the first leg of the North American Triple Crown. Known colloquially as the 'Run for the Roses' and billed as 'the most exciting two minutes in sport', the Kentucky Derby is run on the first Saturday in May, where it forms the highlight of a 14-race card.
However, the Kentucky Derby Festival stretches far beyond the confines of Churchill Downs into the wider Kentucky community, where it celebrates not only the Kentucky Derby, but also the coming of spring to the 'Bluegrass State'. Indeed, the Festival is the largest single annual event in the Kentucky calendar and, in the two weeks preceding the Kentucky Derby, attracts 1.5 million people to a series of playful, tongue-in-cheek events suitable for the whole family. All told, over 70 special events, many of which are free of charge, are laid on for entertainment purposes and to bolster the local economy.
Highlights include the opening fireworks display, known as 'Thunder Over Louisville', which is one of the largest events of its kind anywhere in the United States, the 'Great Steamboat Race' on the Ohio River, and the founding event, the 'Pegasus Parade'. Sports, including basketball, golf and volleyball, are very much in evidence and so, too, is music, with concerts running almost non-stop throughout the fortnight.