How To Explain The Kentucky Derby To Your Kids

Watching the Kentucky Derby can be fun for the whole family, but kids may wonder why everyone is so excited to watch horses with strange names run around in circles. When you step back at look at it through a child's eyes, it seems an odd event — and this is without even mentioning large hats and seersucker jackets. So if you're wondering how to explain the Kentucky Derby to your kids, it may be best to break it down into bite-sized pieces so they can understand. Sharing the rich history and traditions of this annual horse race will help your child gain appreciation and understanding for the Derby, and will make watching it a whole lot more fun as well.

According to the event's official website the Kentucky Derby was brought to the states by Meriwether Lewis Clark, grandson of American explorer William Clark — half of the infamous trailblazers, Lewis and Clark. After taking in the excitement of the European horserace circuit, Meriwether Clark convinced his uncles to gift him some land to develop a racetrack and the Kentucky Derby was born. Since the first race was run in 1875, the derby has proudly boasted the tagline "the most exciting two minutes in sports," according to the official website for the Kentucky Derby.


There are some fun facts about the race's history that kids will like learning. For instance, the Kentucky Derby is the longest running sporting event in U.S. history, as reported by the Kentucky Derby Museum. In addition to all those years of horse racing, the event draws quite a crown. Aside from the tens of millions who tune in to watch the Derby on television, a whopping 160,000 fans pack into Churchill Downs to cheer on the horses, live.

But aside from those fun facts, your kids will find it cool to know where the term "derby" comes from in the first place. As Encyclopaedia Britannica pointed out, this word is meant exclusively to describe a race for 3-year-old horses. Your littles can only imagine what it would be like for them to compete in something as intense as the Kentucky Derby at the ripe old age of three. Making the historical piece interesting for the kids, will encourage them to get into the spirit of the race.


It wouldn't be the Kentucky Derby without a mint julep and a hat so big a family of gerbils could live in it — but how and why did these popular traditions start? According to US News, all these distinct markers of the Kentucky Derby have been a part of the race since its inception. Big hats were a copycat from the English race the Derby was modeled after, and the mint julep has been served at Churchill Downs since the first horse stepped hoof on the track. And as for the singing of "My Old Kentucky Home," your kids can learn the words and join in the fun by listening to this recording.

Horse Naming

Bring the kids in on the fun of horse naming — and just for laughs — see if you can come up with some winning names while abiding by the official rules of the Kentucky Derby. An article on NPR's website outlined the dos and don'ts of creating a name for racehorses. In order to give your horse an appropriate moniker, you must use 18 characters or less and leave out the names of any horse race or racetrack. Also, you must make sure to never have a name end in a horse-related term, have a name made completely of numbers, and if your name includes a number, anything over 30 must be spelled out. Best of luck to you!

This year, take a few minutes to explain the history, traditions, and fun behind the Kentucky Derby so your kids can enjoy the event on a new level. Who knows? They may end up knowing more than most of the adults at the party as well.