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The Kentucky Derby Rose Garland


Making the Derby rose garland

The Kentucky Derby rose garland being made at the Louisville Kroger store.

© Cindy Pierson Dulay

The rose garland for the Kentucky Derby winner first appeared in 1896 when Ben Brush was given a floral arrangement of white and pink roses for winning and in 1904 the red rose became the official flower of the Kentucky Derby. The current form of the garland was first introduced in 1932 for the 58th running won by Burgoo King.

In 1925, New York sports columnist Bill Corum, later the president of Churchill Downs, dubbed the Kentucky Derby the "Run for the Roses," a term still used today.

Each year, a garland of over 400 red roses is sewn into a green satin backing with the seal of the Commonwealth on one end and the twin spires and number of the running on the other. Each garland is also adorned with a "Crown" of roses, green fern and ribbon. With a single rose pointing upward in the center of the "Crown," it is symbolic of the struggle and heart necessary to reach the winners' circle. The winning jockey also receives a bouquet of 60 long stemmed roses wrapped in ten yards of ribbon.

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. Some owners have even had flower dipped in silver like the one from Gato del Sol's garland in 1982 which is on display in the Kentucky Derby Museum.

The Kroger Company has been the official florist of the Kentucky Derby since 1987, taking over from Kingsley Walker florists. Each year Kroger constructs the garland in one of its local stores on Derby Eve for the public to watch, and you can even get petals from the roses used as a souvenir.

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