Tracy S. Morris

Quirky Mysteries, Screwball Fantasy and Sassy History

I Am Not Making This Up: What Explorers Lewis and Clark Have to Do With the Kentucky Derby

Written By: Tracy - May• 08•17

Because “tiny people racing big horses” doesn’t have the same ring to it.


Last weekend was the Kentucky derby, which is like the Super Bowl of Horse Racing, with a little bit of the Oscar’s red carpet mixed in. 

While the race is an interesting diversion for two minutes, in Kentucky the festivities last through a two week’s worth of balls and parties, parades and pageantry. 

And the whole thing was started by the grandson of William Clark (one of those two guys who explored the west), Colonel Meriweather Lewis Clark Jr. 

Clark, or “Lutie” as his family called him was raised by his aunt and cousins, John and Henry Churchill (remember that name. It will come up again).  

The Churchills raised Lutie to appreciate the finer things in life (some say they spoiled him), including horse racing (which his cousins were passionate about). 

In those days, racing had a seedy reputation. Bets were placed through bookmakers, and there was a lot of cheating. 

Lutie traveled abroad. While in Paris, he observed the automated machines that gamblers would place bets with, eliminating bookmaking.

When he returned to America, it was with an idea of starting a racetrack. He approached his Churchill cousins with the idea. The racetrack would be a place that they could showcase their racehorses, and they would use betting machines. 

The family loved the idea, and donated the land for what would become Churchill Downs.  

As track manager for Churchill downs, Lutie pioneered many of the rules that are racing standards today. He also founded the Kentucky Derby.  

Some of the traditions of the derby were present right from the beginning. For one, dignitaries and high society have always watched from box seats, while the rest of the spectators have always sat in the infield. 

Ladies have always worn derby hats, since formal dress has been a requirement for the box seats from the beginning. Though hats have become particularly outrageous in recent years. 
So next year, when you turn on the derby, try a slice of derby pie, and raise a mint julep in toast to Colonel Meriweather Lewis Clark Jr., founder of the most exciting two minutes in horse racing. 

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