A history of America's famed horse racetrack, Churchill Downs

Kentucky Derby is 1st Saturday in May every year

By Ryan Prior, CNN
CNN

Churchill Downs is home to the Kentucky Derby.

(CNN) - It's a racetrack steeped in history.

On the first Saturday of May each year, Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, hosts the Kentucky Derby, dubbed the "Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports."

The first Kentucky Derby was held when Churchill Downs opened in 1875, and the tracks owners say its the "oldest continuously held sporting event in the United States."

Here's what you need to know about this iconic racetrack.

It was inspired by race tracks in Europe

Churchill Downs was founded by Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark, the grandson of William Clark, who was part of the "Lewis and Clark" expedition that explored the American West beginning in 1804.

In 1872, at age 26, the young Clark traveled to England and France, where seeing the Epsom Derby horse race inspired him to create a similar horse race "spectacle" at home in America, according to the Churchill Downs official website.

Clark leased 80 acres of land outside Louisville from his uncles, John and Henry Churchill, for whom the track is named.

It didn't turn a profit for almost 30 years

The track opened in 1875 , according to its official history.

Workers added stately twin spires to the track in 1895, which became symbolic of Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby.

The track didn't turn a profit until 1903.

It was the site of a historic flight

In 1910, one of the first-ever flights in Kentucky took off from the infield of Churchill Downs, after aviator Glenn Curtiss assembled an airplane on the infield of the track.

It was named a National Historic Landmark in 1986. And in 2009, Churchill Downs held its first night race.

Its expanded into a company with many holdings

In 2015, the track hit its all-time attendance record, with 170,513 packing into the grandstands and the infield.

Churchill Downs, Incorporated, which owns the racetrack, has expanded into a multi-state company that operates racetracks, casinos, and online wagering platforms around the country.

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