Tomorrow the Kentucky Derby will be held. At this time last year my then roommates and I were curious about the origin of the word “derby.” If Wikipedia can be trusted, we owe it to Edward Smith-Stanley, 12th Earl of Derby:
At a dinner party in 1778 held on his estate “The Oaks” in Carshalton, the Earl and his friends planned a sweepstake horse race, won the following year by the Earl’s own horse, Bridget. The race, the Epsom Oaks, has been named after the estate since. At a celebration after Bridget’s win, a similar race for colts was proposed and the Earl tossed a coin with Sir Charles Bunbury for the honour of naming the race. The Earl won, and the race became known as the Derby Stakes. Sir Charles won the initial race in 1780 with his horse, Diomed; the Earl himself won it in 1787 with Sir Peter Teazle.
Had the coin toss gone differently, we might be celebrating the Kentucky Bunbury tomorrow and the world would be a slightly sillier place.
This is the same Stanley family, by the way, that later gave ice hockey the Stanley Cup, making them uniquely successful at naming sports championships.
Also related to the Kentucky Derby: how to never, ever make a mint julep.