The first-ever Kentucky Derby took place on May 17, 1875, at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.
Oliver Lewis was the winning jockey aboard Aristides, who completed the 1.5-mile race in 2 minutes, 37.75 seconds, a then-world record for that distance.
Aristides defeated Volcano by two lengths, proving a $2,500 top prize for owner H. Price McGrath in the 15-horse field.
Lewis was one of 13 African American jockeys in the race, and black jockeys won 15 of the first 28 Derbies. (In 2015, The Guardian reported on the disappearance of African American jockeys from the race. Since 1922, the newspaper reported, “only two black jockeys have ridden in the race.”)
In addition to Aristides and Volcano, the rest of the field (in descending order of finish) consisted of thoroughbreds named Verdigris, Bob Woolley, Ten Broeck, Grenoble, Bill Bruce, Chesapeake, Searcher, Ascension, Enlister, McCreery, Warsaw, Vagabond and Gold Mine.
The Kentucky Derby’s official website described the inaugural race this way:
“ARISTIDES broke in front but McCREERY took lead briefly near end of first quarter; ARISTIDES quickly moved back in front with McCREERY, TEN BROECK, VOLCANO and VERDIGRIS his nearest rivals. CHESAPEAKE, a vicious starter, was among the last to break. McCREERY retired after a half mile, as his owner expected, due to recent illness. The field continued in that order with ARISTIDES gradually increasing his lead. Owner McGrath, standing near the head of the stretch, waved to jockey Lewis on the little red horse to go on because CHESAPEAKE, supposedly the better of the McGrath horses, was far back and had no chance. Both VOLCANO and VERDIGRIS challenged the winner in the stretch but neither could catch him.“