The Kentucky Derby

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Road to the Roses

The Kentucky Derby title is the most sought after prize in horse racing. It inspires thousands of horses owners, trainers and jockeys. But every year, on that first Saturday in September at the historic Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, only 20 thoroughbreds will have earned the right to compete.

Before 2013, derby contenders became eligible to compete in the Kentucky Derby if they earned enough prize money during key Graded Stakes races on the Road to the Roses. Now, there is a points-based system where the points get higher during the prep races peaking with the Championship Series in the week prior to the Kentucky Derby on the long Road to the Roses.

2023 Kentucky Derby Prep Races

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Date Race Track Points
Sep 17, 2022 Iroquois Churchill Downs 10-4-3-2-1
Sep 24, 2022 Juddmonte Royal Lodge Newmarket 10-4-3-2-1
Sep 24, 2022 Alan Smurfit Memorial Beresford Curragh 10-4-3-2-1
Oct 01, 2022 Champagne Belmont At The Big A 10-4-3-2-1
Oct 02, 2022 Qatar Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere Longchamp 10-4-3-2-1
Oct 08, 2022 Breeders' Futurity Keeneland 10-4-3-2-1
Oct 08, 2022 American Pharoah Santa Anita 10-4-3-2-1
Oct 22, 2022 Vertem Futurity Trophy Doncaster 10-4-3-2-1
Nov 04, 2022 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Keeneland 30-12-9-6-3
Nov 26, 2022 Kentucky Jockey Club Churchill Downs 10-4-3-2-1
Nov 26, 2022 Cattleya Tokyo Racecourse 10-4-3-2-1
Dec 03, 2022 Remsen Aqueduct 10-4-3-2-1
Dec 14, 2022 Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun Kawasaki 20-8-6-4-2
Dec 17, 2022 Los Alamitos Futurity Los Alamitos 10-4-3-2-1
Dec 17, 2022 Springboard Mile Remington Park 10-4-3-2-1
Dec 26, 2022 Gun Runner Fair Grounds 10-4-3-2-1
Jan 01, 2023 Smarty Jones Oaklawn Park 10-4-3-2-1
Jan 01, 2023 Jerome Aqueduct 10-4-3-2-1
Jan 08, 2023 Sham Santa Anita 10-4-3-2-1
Jan 21, 2023 Lecomte Fair Grounds 20-8-6-4-2
Jan 28, 2023 Southwest Oaklawn Park 20-8-6-4-2
Feb 04, 2023 Withers Aqueduct 20-8-6-4-2
Feb 04, 2023 Holy Bull Gulfstream Park 20-8-6-4-2
Feb 04, 2023 Robert B. Lewis Santa Anita 20-8-6-4-2
Feb 11, 2023 Sam F. Davis Tampa Bay Downs 20-8-6-4-2
Feb 11, 2023 El Camino Real Derby Golden Gate Fields 10-4-3-2-1
Feb 18, 2023 Risen Star Fair Grounds 50-20-15-10-5
Feb 19, 2023 Hyacinth Tokyo Racecourse 30-12-9-6-3
Feb 25, 2023 Rebel Oaklawn Park 50-20-15-10-5
Mar 01, 2023 Road to the Kentucky Derby Condition Stakes Kempton Park 20-8-6-4-2
Mar 03, 2023 Patton Dundalk 20-8-6-4-2
Mar 04, 2023 San Felipe Santa Anita 50-20-15-10-5
Mar 04, 2023 Fountain of Youth Gulfstream Park 50-20-15-10-5
Mar 04, 2023 Gotham Aqueduct 50-20-15-10-5
Mar 04, 2023 John Battaglia Memorial Turfway Park 20-8-6-4-2
Mar 11, 2023 Tampa Bay Derby Tampa Bay Downs 50-20-15-10-5
Mar 25, 2023 Fukuryu Nakayama 40-16-12-8-4
Mar 25, 2023 Louisiana Derby Fair Grounds 100-40-30-20-10
Mar 25, 2023 UAE Derby Meydan Racecourse 100-40-30-20-10
Mar 25, 2023 Jeff Ruby Steaks Turfway Park 100-40-30-20-10
Mar 26, 2023 Sunland Derby Sunland Park 50-20-15-10-5
Mar 30, 2023 Cardinal Condition Stakes Chelmsford city 30-12-9-6-3
Apr 01, 2023 Arkansas Derby Oaklawn Park 100-40-30-20-10
Apr 01, 2023 Florida Derby Gulfstream Park 100-40-30-20-10
Apr 08, 2023 Santa Anita Derby Santa Anita 100-40-30-20-10
Apr 08, 2023 Blue Grass Keeneland 100-40-30-20-10
Apr 08, 2023 Wood Memorial Aqueduct 100-40-30-20-10
Apr 15, 2023 Lexington Keeneland 20-8-6-4-2

The top 4 finishing horses in each of the prep races that take place over the course of the 2-year-old and 3-year-old season are awarded points that are tallied across all the Derby Prep Races they compete in. In case of a points tie, earnings in non-restricted stakes will serve as a tiebreaker. Horses are then ranked to determine who is eligible to run in the Kentucky Derby and earn those red roses.

A separate Road to the Kentucky Oaks competition is run during the same time period. Fillies that are eligible for the Kentucky Oaks, run at Churchill Downs the first Friday in September, the day before the Kentucky Derby. Any filly running in a race on the Road to the Roses can also use those points for the Road to the Kentucky Oaks.

Road to the Roses

The Origin of the 'Road' to the Roses

In the winners circle, the top horse is presented with a beautiful garland made of more than 400 red roses. In 1904 the red rose was adopted as the official flower of the Kentucky Derby, hence the Run to the Roses!

It was New York sports columnist Bill Corum, who dubbed the Kentucky Derby the "Run for the Roses," in 1925. The tradition of the rose is so strong that some owners have even had the flower dipped in silver to preserve it. In fact, a silver-dipped flower from the garland of the 1982 winner, Gato del Sol, is on display in the Kentucky Derby Museum, at Churchill Downs.

Garland of Roses

Garland of Roses

The rose garland is now synonymous with the Kentucky Derby. The first appearance of the rose in the winner’s circle was in1896 when Ben Brush received a floral arrangement of white and pink roses. Today, the Governor of Kentucky and other dignitaries present the garland and the trophy in the winner’s circle at the completion of the Derby. There’s even a song called “Run for the Roses” composed by Dan Fogelberg which was released in time for the 1982 running of the roses.

In 1987, the Kroger Company became the official florist of the Kentucky Derby and it creates the garland in the aisles of one of its stores on the eve of the Derby. It’s typically a scene of long lines where race fans try to catch a peek of the Derby winner's garland of roses. Not your typical trip to the grocery store with winning jockeys signing autographs in the back of the store!

The roses are stitched one-by-one by hand to a green silk backing with the seal of the Commonwealth and Twin Spires on one side and that year’s running of the roses on the other. There is a single rose pointing upward which is said to “symbolize the struggle and heart necessary to reach the Derby Winner’s Circle.” It’s a meticulous process and very labor intensive. The roses are shipped in specially, cut to size then stored in upright vials for the assembly team to get to work, some of whom have been participating in this tradition for more than the 27 years that it’s been Kroger’s job to create the work of art.

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