For the past 146 years, the Kentucky Derby has been held on the first Saturday of May with only one exception: 1945. That year the race had been scheduled for May 5, a date that ended up smack dab in the final days of World War II as Germany and its European allies began to surrender to the Allied forces; Adolf Hitler died on April 30 and V-E Day occurred on May 8. Though the race could have been held immediately after the surrender of the Axis powers, the horse trainers requested a few additional weeks to get their horses back into racing shape. The 71st Kentucky Derby was postponed to June 9, when Hoop Jr. won the the blanket of roses with a time of two minutes and seven seconds.
In the absence of the thrill of the most exciting two minutes in sports, Kentuckians spent the first Saturday in May finding their thrills about ten miles away at the Jefferson County Armory at the first (and only) Kentucky Turtle Derby. Organized by local sports reporters from the Courier Journal and Louisville Times, the event drew in 6,500 spectators, who put $11,483 in bets on the day’s eight 20-foot races. (That’s $164,663 in 2020 dollars.) In the night’s final race—the Derby—Broken Spring emerged victorious, smoking his competitors with an official time of one minute and twenty seconds. Though a thrilling event that raised a remarkable amount of money for polio-stricken children, the Kentucky Turtle Derby never happened again. Until tomorrow.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced the second postponement in the Kentucky Derby’s history (tentatively rescheduled for September 5), but to keep its spirit alive on the first Saturday in May, Old Forester Mint Julep—the official drink of the Kentucky Derby—has chosen to resurrect the Turtle Derby, and will be broadcasting to fans around the world via YouTube. The event will incorporate several authentic Kentucky Derby themes and traditions, with Triple Crown horse racing announcer Larry Collmus calling the race remotely, and bugler Steve Buttleman—a 23-year veteran of Churchill Downs—kicking off the race from the comfort of his own home. The festivities begin tomorrow at 7 p.m., with the turtles taking off on a race for glory at 7:05. (For you gambling folk, pre-race odds will be announced prior to the turtles taking their mark.)
As a part of the Kentucky Turtle Derby, Old Forester is encouraging those who tune in to consider donating to the Hospitality Industry Emergency Relief Fund. Parent company Brown-Forman will match dollar-for-dollar every donation, up to $100,000.