20 songs for your Kentucky Derby playlist

May 6th, 2023

Editor's note: "Byroad to the Kentucky Derby" examines history and culture, and their ties to Americana. Weekly installments focus on how the Kentucky Derby crosses the threads of time. This week’s feature focuses on music.

The song most famously associated with the Kentucky Derby is, obviously, “My Old Kentucky Home,” by Stephen Foster. The official state song of Kentucky, the Louisville Marching Band plays it during the post parade of the Run for the Roses, an emotional moment for many who love Thoroughbred racing and its marquee American event.

Foster also composed “Camptown Races” which captures the thrill of racing. Churchill Downs honors him by holding a race that bears his name at the end of each spring meet.  

Since the days of Foster, songs about horse racing and Kentucky have infiltrated genres beyond his Americana. Here are a few tunes that can be complied for a diverse Kentucky Derby playlist.

“Let Me See the Colts” – Smog

“Run for the Roses” – Dan Fogelberg

“My Old Kentucky Home” – Johnny Cash

 “Stewball” – Peter, Paul & Mary or Robert Earl Keen

“My Old Kentucky Home” – Knappy Roots

“Up on Cripple Creek” – The Band

“Dead Flowers” – The Rolling Stones

“Kentucky Gambler” – Merle Haggard

“Fugue for Tinhorns” – the original Broadway cast of Guys and Dolls

“Molly and Tenbrooks” – Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys

 “Born to Run” – Bruce Springsteen

“The Race is On” – George Jones

“Bottle of Smoke” – The Pogues

“Both Ends Burning” – Richard Thompson

“Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” – U2

“Wild Horses” – the Rolling Stones

“Bourbon in Kentucky” – Dierks Bentley

“Beer for My Horses” – Toby Keith featuring Willie Nelson

Editor's additions below:

"The Horses" - Daryl Braithwaite

WIlliam Tell Overture - performed by Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra