Given to the University of Kentucky by the class of 2011, Historical Marker #2381 honors Aristides, the winner of the first Kentucky Derby. In May 1875, an estimated 10,000 racing fans watched the first running of the Kentucky Derby in Louisville. Among the field of fifteen horses was Aristides, "the little red horse," who won the mile-and-one-half race.
Riding Aristides to an unexpected victory was Oliver Lewis, a nineteen-year-old African American jockey. He was born in Fayette County in 1856. He never rode in another Derby. Instead, he became a successful bookmaker (then a legal enterprise) and wrote detailed handicapping charts similar to those in today's Daily Racing Form. Lewis died in 1924, and is buried in Lexington.
Ansel Williamson trained and conditioned Aristides and dozens of other well-known racehorses. He was born a slave in Virginia in the early 1800s. Though he had humble beginnings, he became a trainer whose excellent horsemanship was known throughout the South. Freed after the Civil War, Williamson went on to train for H. P. McGrath. He was inducted to the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame in 1998.
Aristides was owned by Henry Price McGrath, who had been a gambler and owner of posh gambling parlors in New Orleans and New York City. In1867, he sold out and came back to Lexington and built his estate, McGrathiana, on the crest of a hill a few miles outside of town. Breeding, racing, and betting topflight thoroughbreds would dominate the rest of his life. He gained immortality when his red colt, Aristides, became the winner of the first Kentucky Derby.
After McGrath's death, the farm changed owners several times but was eventually purchased by the University of Kentucky for a research farm. It is now called Coldstream Research Campus.
The UK Senior Challenge Historical Marker Project, administered by the Kentucky Historical Society, began in 1994 as a way for the graduating senior class to leave a memorial to the university. Every year since then, the UK historical marker committee has decided on the topic, raised the money, and written the text for the markers.