The History of the Kentucky Derby Garland of Roses

red roseAs we all know, red roses symbolize love and passion. But did you know that it can also represent victory?

Thousands of visitors flock to Churchill Downs in Kentucky, Louisiana, USA  each May not only to watch the famous horse race and to dress up in fancy clothes and hats, but also to get a glimpse of the infamous Kentucky Derby Garland of Roses, which is given to the winner of the race.

The 2 km horse race takes place on the first Saturday in May. After the “Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports,” the winner is draped with the highly coveted garland made with over 400 red roses! The jockey is also presented with 60 matching long-stem red roses wrapped with 30 foot (10 yards) of ribbon.

Each of the roses is hand-sewn onto the garland by a team of florists. The number of roses used each year varies.  A red rose variety called “Freedom” is used to make the garland. There are approximately 426 roses in the garland itself, with 12 in each of the fronds on the side and the “crown” in the center contains a rose for each of the racing horses. In the center of the crown, there is a single rose that is pointed upwards, which is meant to symbolize the struggle and heart required to reach the winner’s circle. Greens and ribbon also adorn the garland. The seal of the Commonwealth is on the one end and the Twin Spires and number of the race’s current renewal on the other.   

The 2013 garland measures 10 ft long and 2 ft wide and weighs about 40 pounds. Here is a look at the 2013 Garland of Roses.

In the past, owners of the Derby winner also received a silk replica of the garland. But since 1996, the actual garland has been freeze-dried and mounted instead.

Even long before the Garland of Roses was introduced, a gift of roses meant victory. In 1896, Derby winner Ben Brush was given a floral arrangement of white and pink roses. In 1904, the red became the official flower of the Kentucky Derby. In 1925, the race was dubbed the “Run of the Roses” by sports columnist and later Churchill Downs president, Bill Corum. It wasn’t until 1932 when the first Garland of Roses was given to Derby winner, Burgoo King.

Kingsley Walker Florist first crafted the Garland of Roses in 1932 and have been doing it for over 50 years. In 1987, retail giant, Kroger, took over the prestigious task of creating the garland. And ever since, the making of the rose garland has become a popular public event. Thousands of people come to watch.

About Connor Lowry

I love flowers! I enjoy writing about them as well as gardening. Mostly I love finding new and unique flower gardening ideas I encourage you to post regularly on this blog, and send in guest blogs or ideas for new blogs as well. New and exciting blogs are always welcome I intend to post a lot of interesting facts and fun stuff about flowers, as well as info on many varieties of flowers.
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