History of the Garland of Roses for the Kentucky Derby winner

Garland in freezer at Kentucky Derby Museum

Garland in freezer at Kentucky Derby Museum

The Kentucky Derby is also known as the Run for the Roses. New York sports columnist Bill Corum, who in 1949 became President of Churchill Downs, coined the phrase “Run for the Roses”. Corum also was the commentator for radio for the Kentucky Derby for many years.

Roses for the Kentucky Derby winner actually started long before anyone heard of the Run for the Roses. 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. Then 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.

Kingsley Walker Florist shop crafted the Derby garland for more than 50 years, starting in 1932. Betty J. Korfhage who passed away in 2002 was a fourth generation owner of the shop. Daily Racing Form columnist Oscar Otis was one of the first people to write about the garland makers back in the 1940’s. He said he found 2 ladies stitching in roses and that they worked for a full 24 hours before the race to have the garland ready.

Kroger started making the garland of roses in 1987. The red Freedom rose is the variety used for the Garland of Roses. There are 426 roses in the actual blanket with 12 in each of the fronds on the side. The crown in the center contains a rose for each horse that is running in the race.

Each rose is inserted into the blanket and has its own water vial hidden inside the lining. The Garland of Roses is 2.5 yards long, 14 inches wide and usually weighs about 40 pounds.

The winning jockey is presented with the Jockey’s Bouquet, made of 60 matching long-stem roses wrapped with 10 yards of ribbon.

About 70 people work on the garlands from beginning to end. They start working on the fabric backgrounds in February, but most of the work is done on Derby week.

Floral designers also decorate the great urns in the Winner’s Circle at Churchill Downs.

Kroger now constructs the prestigious garland of roses in one of its local stores for the public to view on Derby Eve.

On the Sunday after the Derby in 2009, the trainer and owners of Derby winner Mine That Bird brought their garland of roses to the front of the Kentucky Derby Museum. They placed the garland on the statue of 2006 Derby winner Barbaro and passed out the roses to all those that came by.

California Chrome’s assistant trainer Alan Sherman brought the Garland of Roses to the Kentucky Derby Museum on the Monday after California Chrome’s 2014 Kentucky Derby win. They put the garland on a long table and surprised people who came to the Museum with a rose from the garland.