Home of the Kentucky Derby
Churchill Downs Racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky is home to the oldest consecutively held Thoroughbred race in America: The Kentucky Derby.
Churchill Downs was founded by 26-year-old Col. M. Lewis Clark, who in May of 1874 created the Louisville Jockey Club in an attempt to raise money for the construction of quality racing facilities. At $100 a pop, Clark’s efforts attracted 32 members and $32,000 in funds. He then leased the 80 acres of land from his uncles, John and Henry Churchill, on which a clubhouse, grandstand, porter’s lodge, and six stables were built. The inaugural race, which took place a year later on May 17, 1875, included the Kentucky Derby, the Kentucky Oaks and the Clark Handicap.
These events have each been held continuously at Churchill since their debut in 1875. Today, there are many other great races run in Churchill Downs.
Throughout the world, the Twin Spires are a recognized landmark that has become symbolic to Churchill Downs.
Constructed in 1895, the Spires were the creation of a twenty-four-year-old draftsman, Joseph Dominic Baldez, who was asked to draw the plans for Churchill Downs’ new Grandstand. Originally the plans did not include the Spires, but as the young Baldez continued work on his design, he felt the structure needed something to give it a striking appearance.
Described as towers in the original drawing, the hexagonal spires exemplify late nineteenth century architecture, in which symmetry and balance took precedence over function. Although Baldez designed many other structures in Louisville, the Twin Spires remain as an everlasting monument to the architect.
Former Churchill Downs President Matt J. Winn is reported to have told Baldez, “Joe when you die there’s one monument that will never be taken down, the Twin Spires.”
Baldez died in 1957, but a century after they were built, his Twin Spires continue to greet the winner of the Kentucky Derby and stand as a familiar beacon to horse racing enthusiasts everywhere.