May 17th, 1875 – The First Winner of the Kentucky Derby!


On May 17th, 1875, fifteen horses were entered in the first Kentucky Derby, two of them fillies. The track was fast, the weather was fine, and 10,000 people were in attendance. Aristides was one of two horses entered by Hal McGrath. The other was Chesapeake. Both horses wore the green and orange silks of H.P. McGrath. Trained by future Hall of Famer Ansel Williamson, an African American, Aristides was ridden by Oliver Lewis, also African American. McGrath expected the smaller speedball Aristides to be the “rabbit”. He was to go out front fast and force the pace so that Chesapeake, considered the better McGrath horse, could stalk the front runners, and, when they and Aristides tired, come from behind to win.


Aristides was a chestnut thoroughbred with a white star and two hind stockings, Aristides was bred by Hal Price McGrath and foaled in 1872. He was sired by the great English stud Leamington, which made him a half brother to another great sire, Hall of Famer Longfellow, who, during his racing career, was called “King of the Turf”. McGrath did not consider Aristides first rate, though his dam (Sarong) was by one of the United States’ greatest sires, Lexington, whose bloodline went back to Glencoe and Hall of Famer Boston.

Just as McGrath had planned, Aristides broke in front and took the lead, but McCreery quickly overtook him near the end of the first quarter. Aristides fought back to lead again, followed by McCreery, Ten Broeck, Volcano, and Verdigris. Chesapeake, meanwhile, was almost the last to break and was not doing much at the back of the pack. As the “rabbit”, Aristides kept increasing his lead until there was virtually no chance that Chesapeake could catch up. Aristides’s jockey, Oliver Lewis, knowing he was not supposed to win, looked to owner McGrath, who waved him on. Both Volcano and Verdigris challenged Aristides in the stretch, but Aristides won by a length and took the $2850 pool. Ten Broeck finished fifth and Chesapeake eighth.

Aristides (named for his breeder’s good friend and fellow horse breeder, Pennsylvanian Aristides Welch, who owned Erdenheim Stud and had imported Leamington into the United States) was foaled late in the season and was small, never standing taller than about 15 hands. His stablemate the bay Chesapeake, also sired by Lexington, was expected to do well at the races.


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