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Home Front Friday: Kentucky Derby

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Count Fleet, with jockey Johnny Longden wearing the wreath of roses after winning the 69th running of the Kentucky Derby, May 1, 1943. From the Associated Press.

Count Fleet, with jockey Johnny Longden wearing the wreath of roses after winning the 69th running of the Kentucky Derby, May 1, 1943. From the Associated Press.

Home Front Friday is a regular series that highlights the can do spirit on the Home Front during World War II and illustrates how that spirit is still alive today!

It’s Derby weekend, and that means mint juleps! But before you indulge in the pleasures of the oldest continuously running sporting even in the United States, let’s talk a bit about the Kentucky Derby and World War II.

Since 1875, the Derby has consistently been held at Churchill Downs. In 1941, when the United States became fully involved in WWII, the future of sporting events was in jeopardy. Frivolous activities were being postponed in the interest of more serious war efforts. Colonel Winn, President of the Churchill Downs Racetrack, saw the importance of continuing the Derby in the same place, despite the war. In his own words, “part of its glory was centered in the fact that it had never lapsed.”

When that glory was threatened in the spring of 1943, Winn rose to the challenge. Due to rationing, traveling and consumption were restricted during WWII. American transportation administrator Joseph B. Eastman categorized the special trains and private cars to transport people to the Derby as unnecessary travel during wartime. Winn responded that he didn’t need the extra transportation and the Kentucky Derby would be held on May 1, as always.

People arrived by street car, coining the Derby of 1943 as the “Streetcar Derby,” and the race went on as planned. Because the war had seeped into every aspect of American life, the horses took on a new patriotism, capturing the military spirit. Because of the patriotism of the Derby, especially during times of war, leaders of the Churchill Downs created a uniquely American identity for the race.

The Derby became an American institution, a rallying point for Americans overseas and abroad. The Masters golf tournament and the Indianapolis 500 were suspended during WWII, but the Derby never faltered. Remember that as you indulge in juleps and enormous hats!

Speaking of mint juleps, here is a little recipe we think you might like:


1 teaspoon powdered sugar

2 oz. Bourbon whiskey

2 teaspoons water

4 mint leaves


  1. In a highball glass, muddle the mint, sugar and water.
  2. Fill the glass with ice
  3. Add Bourbon
  4. Stir well (the glass should be well frosted)
  5. Garnish with a mint sprig!


Works Cited

Nicholson, James C. The Kentucky Derby: How the Run for the Roses Became America’s

Premier Sporting Event. Lexington: U of Kentucky, 2012. Print.


Posted by Laurel Taylor, Education Intern and Lauren Handley, Assistant Director of Education for Public Programs at The National WWII Museum.

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