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Kentucky Derby Weather -- A Primer

May 2, 2015

By WeatherBug Sr. Meteorologist, John Bateman


It`s been held in April and even as late as June (during World War II), but the Kentucky Derby we have come to know since the mid-1940s has been run on the first Saturday in May, which can be a volatile time for Louisville`s weather.

Rain can cause big problems with track conditions at Derby post time. Some heavy rain fell during the 2013 Derby, with an amount of 0.87 inches reported for the day in Louisville. It made for a Sloppy track as Orb came in first place with Golden Soul taking second place. Last year, however, there was mostly sunny weather and a Fast track when California Chrome crossed the finish line first.

Also, this will be the fourth Derby since a tornado touched down and damaged 5 barns at Churchill Downs. It was ranked as an EF-1 tornado, but fortunately it harmed neither human nor horse. That twister swept through on June 22, 2011, about 6 weeks after the Derby... can you imagine if it happened on Derby Day?

Looking back at past Kentucky Derby weather, a wide range of weather conditions has occurred in Louisville:

  • The coldest Derby Day? 36 degrees back in 1940 and 1957.

  • The hottest Derby? 94 degrees in 1959
  • The wettest? 2.31 inches of rain in 1918
  • The longest stretch of consecutive dry Derby Days? 12. From 1875-1886.
  • By the way, a few more Kentucky Derby weather facts: It has been cold enough on a Derby Day that sleet fell during the afternoon on May 6, 1989. Also, out of 140 Derbies, 64 have experienced precipitation at some point during the day (about 46 percent).

    What can you expect today as 18 contenders compete for the garland of roses in "The Greatest Two Minutes in Sports"? Ample sunshine will allow for a fast track this afternoon. The high temperature will reach 75 degrees, with race-time temperature a notch cooler in the lower 70s.

    Oh, by the way... during its long and glorious history, no matter how awful the weather might have been, the Kentucky Derby has never been cancelled. Go baby, go!

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    Story image: In this May 3, 2014, file photo, jockey Victor Espinoza rides California Chrome to win the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File

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