Exploring The Connections Of The UK With The Kentucky Derby

There are few more famous horse races in the United States than the Kentucky Derby. However, despite being an American cultural phenomenon, it has taken inspiration from a number of countries throughout history.

That is certainly the case in this modern day, with a growing number of Japanese runners lining up in the Triple Crown race to make it a more international affair.

However, there have been countless occasions throughout history when the United Kingdom has had a direct impact on the road. But, how is the American race connected to the United Kingdom?

Since the 150th edition is happening in a month and the 2024 Kentucky Derby betting strategy is changing every day, we thought of seeing how the UK has been involved with this race across the pond.

Race Wouldn’t Be The Same Without UK Influence

The Kentucky Derby arguably wouldn’t be what it is today without inspiration from the United Kingdom, as it was named and modeled after the Epsom Derby, which is staged annually in early June in the UK. However, there are more differences between the races than similarities, including the fact that the races are run on different surfaces.

The Derby in the UK is run on turf, while the American race is run on the dirt. It is also worth mentioning that the race is run in a different direction, and different distances are covered. The UK race is staged over 1 ½ miles, while the Kentucky Derby is staged over 1 ¼ miles.

However, the key similarity that binds both races is the fact that they are both run by horses that are aged three, with both also forming an important position in the Triple Crown calendar.

Omar Khayyam

British success in the Kentucky Derby has been a rarity throughout history. However, Omar Khayyam made history in 1917 by becoming the first British-bred winner of America’s most famous race. The horse was sold to an American racing partnership as a yearling and made history by becoming the first foreign-bred runner to win the opening Triple Crown race of the race.

There always appeared to be quality within his progeny, as he was closely connected to a horse that had won the Epsom Derby and Ascot Gold Cup. However, he was unable to target further Triple Crown success, as the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes were staged on the same day when he competed on track.

However, the runner did land further big victories during his career, winning the Travers Stakes, Brooklyn Derby, and Saratoga Cup in 1917. Omar Khayyam would continue to be a dominant runner as a four-year-old despite carrying significant weight penalties in the Marines’ Liberty Bond Handicap and Rennert Handicap.

Tomy Lee

Omar Khayyam wasn’t the only British-bred runner to win the Kentucky Derby, as that feat would be emulated by Tomy Lee in 1959. The British-bred runner defied all expectations to land victory in the race, with the runner seeing off challenges from horses such as Sword Dancer, Royal Orbit, and First Landing to claim victory. The success would also make more history, as Bertie Kerr became the first non-American agent to buy the winner of the race.

He started his career in England, before being born by an American at the Newmarket sales. However, Tuleg was the horse that Connections was most interested in buying, with Tomy Lee purchased to act as a traveling companion. Tomy Lee would make an instant impression on track in North America, winning the Haggin Stakes and Del Mar Futurity as a two-year-old.

Connections opted against running Tomy Lee in the final two Triple Crown races and instead opted to send the horse back to California. He would return to action in the Cinema Handicap, finishing sixth. After a failed career as a stallion, he returned to action to win four more races.


Aidan O’Brien has made a reputation for himself in terms of winning high-quality graded races across the world on the turf. However, he looked to land victory in one of the huge races on the dirt with Mendelssohn in 2018. The runner showed great promise early in his career, landing the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, before scoring in the UAE Derby by a staggering 18-length margin.

However, his bid for glory in the Derby would come up short after finishing last of the runners following traffic issues and being bumped. Eventually, he finished 70 lengths behind Triple Crown champion Justify. Mendelssohn would continue to be campaigned in the U.S., finishing a strong second in the Travers Stakes in August.

He would follow that effort up by finishing second in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, before finishing seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Following an effort in the Cigar Mile, it was announced that he would stand for stud in Kentucky. He has achieved notable success as a stallion, which included Delight winning the G2 Jessamine Stakes at Keeneland in 2022.

Sarah C. Burdett

I hail from Baytown in the American South. Reading is my passion; it broadens my understanding of the world. Sharing is my joy; I hope my content brings you delightful experiences. In a world rushing you to grow up, I aspire to protect the fairy tale within your heart with my words.

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