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Homeracing

The longest running sporting events in the U.S.

Profile Picture: Ashley Anderson

April 28th, 2022

May 7, 2022 will mark the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby, the longest continuously held major sporting event in the U.S.

Since 1875, the Derby has been hosted at historic Churchill Downs, come rain or shine, and became a permanent fixture on the first Saturday of May beginning in 1931.

The race has never been canceled in its 147-year history, but was postponed twice. In 2020, the 1 1/4-mile race was conducted on September 5, 2020, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in 1945, the Run for the Roses went off on June 9, after the U.S. government placed a temporary ban on horse racing during World War II.

To understand just how long the Kentucky Derby has been a focal point in American culture, let's compare its unprecedented tenure to 10 of the longest-running major sporting events in the U.S.

The Super Bowl: 56 years

The most watched football game of the year has plenty of history to its name, but the first Super Bowl didn't kick off until Jan. 15, 1967, when legendary coach Vince Lombardi led his Green Bay Packers to a 35-10 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs inside the old Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Four months later, Proud Clarion won the 93rd running of the Kentucky Derby in a time of 2:00 3/5, then the third-fastest winning time in the race's history.

Daytona 500: 63 years

Considered the most important date on the NASCAR calendar, the 500 mile motor race at Daytona International Speedway began in 1959, when Lee Petty won in a photo finish.

The same year, a horse by the name of Tomy Lee won the 85th running of the Kentucky Derby with famed jockey Bill Shoemaker aboard on May 2, 1959.

The NBA Playoffs: 75 years

The same year the Philadelphia Warriors (now the franchise in Golden State) won the inaugural NBA championship, Jet Pilot crossed the finish line first in the 73rd running of the Kentucky Derby, on May 3, 1947. The year prior, Assault won the most exciting two minutes in sports on May 4, 1946 and went on to become the seventh Triple Crown winner in history.

NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament: 83 years

In 1939, former Ohio State head coach Harold Olsen watched his brainchild come to life with the first ever NCAA basketball tournament, then comprised of eight schools competing in a single-elimination tournament.

Today, 68 teams earn a bid to the annual competition dubbed March Madness, which was cancelled just once in history, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The same year the Oregon Webfoots collected the championship banner in 1939, the Run for the Roses named its 65th winner, Johnstown, trained by Hall of Famer "Sunny Jim" Fitzsimmons.

The Stanley Cup Playoffs: 95 years

The oldest existing trophy awarded to a professional sports franchise in North America, the Stanley Cup has been around since 1892, but did not officially become a part of the NHL Playoffs until 1927.

By then, the Kentucky Derby had already been run more than 50 times and had witnessed one Triple Crown winner, Sir Barton, in 1919.

World Series: 119 years

America's favorite pastime first introduced the Fall Classic, otherwise known as the World Series, in October of 1903.

At that point, the Kentucky Derby had just competed its 29th running on May 2, and offered a purse of $6,000. Kentucky-bred chestnut Judge Himes won that edition.

Boston Marathon: 125 years

Traditionally held on Patriots' Day, on the third Monday of April, the Boston Marathon has welcomed runners to Beantown since April 19, 1897.

The world's oldest annual marathon kicked off the same year Typhoon II won the 23rd running of the Kentucky Derby. One year earlier, Ben Brush won the first ever Derby raced at 1 1/4 miles. Prior to 1896, the Derby was raced at 1 1/2 miles.

U.S. Open (golf): 127 years

Professional golf features a number of long-running tournaments, including the 127-year-old U.S. Open, the third of four majors on the PGA calendar.

First held in 1895 (the year Halma won the Derby) in Newport, Rhode Island, the U.S. Open was cancelled in 1917 and 1918 during World War I and from 1942 to 1945 during World War II.

The second major of the year, the PGA Championship, was launched 106 years ago, in 1916 (when champion Thoroughbred George Smith won the Derby), while the Masters began its tradition unlike any other on March 22, 1934, less than two months before Cavalcade ran the fastest in the 60th running of the Kentucky Derby.

U.S. Open (tennis): 141 years

The hardcourt Grand Slam tournament was first played on grass in August 1881, just a few months after Hindoo triumphed in the seventh Kentucky Derby. The bay colt crossed the wire first in the 1 1/2-mile iteration of the Derby in 2:40.0. That year, Richard Sears defeated William Glyn in the inaugural U.S. Open and would go on to win the tournament the next six years.

Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show: 145 years

The second-longest running sporting event in the U.S., behind the Kentucky Derby, is another that features non-human athletes. Just like the Derby, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show has been held continuously, without interruption, even during the Great Depression, World War I and II, and the COVID-19 pandemic, since its inception, on May 8, 1877.

Now held every February inside Madison Square Garden, the all-breed conformation show pre-dates the invention of the light bulb, the automobile, and the sport of basketball.

Yet, it did not beat out the arrival of the Kentucky Derby, which crowned Baden-Baden the winner of the Run for the Roses on May 22, 1877, the third running of the race. The 1877 Kentucky Derby is also notable in that it was the first to attract a major celebrity, Polish actress Helena Modjeska, to the event.

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