It might be difficult to imagine a time when local business didn’t wholly support Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby, but believe it or not, such a time existed. Back in 1874, Jockey Club President Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr., asked Louisville Water’s board for an extension of the mains to the then-being-built track. The board declined the request!
This could have doomed the track and the Kentucky Derby before the first horse even stepped foot on the grounds. Luckily, by the end of that year—perhaps due to outside pressure—Louisville Water reversed that decision, and the Jockey Club received a two-inch service line and meter.
A New York correspondent would later note “the excellent arrangements made for watering the track and grounds” that “will secure a never failing supply of water.” Another feature was that all of the 20 white-washed stables were “equipped with hydrants from which water can be drawn the same as in the city.” The access to water in the stables was called “perfect.”
This means that Aristides, who won the first Kentucky Derby run in 1875, likely prepped for that historic race by drinking some refreshing water supplied by Louisville Water. (As you know, it is important to stay hydrated.) We can’t say for sure whether that helped him win, but we can say that Louisville Water is the water of champions!
The importance of water extended beyond the track itself too. Sprinkling the dirt streets was another need of the day. A gravel drive with dirt roads on both sides connected the fashionable Third Street to the entrance gates. Sprinkler attachments were installed every thousand feet. It was expected that, during the race meets, the drive and the track would be watered every day.
These days, Louisville Water’s role during the Kentucky Derby is different but no less important. There’s less watering of dirt roads and more technical monitoring of water levels to make sure our systems can handle the influx of people visiting and using water. We also sponsor or support many events during the Kentucky Derby Festival leading up to the big race day.