Kentucky Derby race length and distance: how long is the race?

May 6th, 2023

There’s a reason it’s called the most exciting two minutes in sports. To beat out a field of up to 20 three-year-old Thoroughbreds vying for the Kentucky Derby (G1) crown and the customary garland of roses, it takes a combination of strength, stamina, and tactical speed to breeze through a 1 1/4-mile race in around 120 seconds.

What is the traditional length of the Kentucky Derby?

While today’s race stretches 1 1/4 miles (or 10 furlongs long), the Kentucky Derby got its start as a 1 1/2-mile event run at historic Churchill Downs Racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky.

In 1875, the inaugural Kentucky Derby witnessed Aristides triumph by one-quarter length over second-place finisher Volcano in a time of 2:37.75 in the 12-furlong race.

Fourteen years later, chestnut colt Spokane won the Run for the Roses in 2:34.5, the fastest winning Derby time at 1 1/2 miles.

In 1896, the Kentucky Derby was shortened to 1 1/4 miles, as the 1 1/2-mile distance was believed to be too long for three-year-olds to run that early in the spring.

Today, the 1 1/4-mile race is usually the longest distance that the Derby entries have run up to that point in their careers.

What is the fastest Kentucky Derby time at 1 1/4 miles?

Since 1896, the first jewel in the Triple Crown has been run at 1 1/4 miles, with just two horses winning the Kentucky Derby in under two minutes.

The first to win the Derby with a sub-two-minute romp was Secretariat in 1973. Led by Hall of Fame trainer Lucien Laurin, Secretariat and jockey Ron Turcotte won the Kentucky Derby in 1:59.4, a track record at 1 1/4 miles to this day.

The chestnut colt, nicknamed Big Red, defeated second-place finisher Sham by 2 1/2 lengths. Sham, out of Claiborne Farm, actually owns the second-fastest Kentucky Derby time at 1:59 4/5 seconds, but the feat was largely overshadowed by one of the greatest racehorses of all time.

The only other Thoroughbred to finish the Kentucky Derby in under two minutes is Monarchos, who completed the 1 1/4-mile trek in 1:59.97.

What is the slowest Kentucky Derby time at 1 1/4 miles?

In 1908, Stone Street earned the unenviable distinction of winning the Kentucky Derby in the slowest time (2:15.2) at 1 1/4 miles. The bay colt was a longshot among the eight-horse field but got the better of his competition on muddy track conditions that day.

Prior to the Kentucky Derby, Stone Street had not won any major stakes races and never won another major stakes race following his victory on the first Saturday in May.