Image description: Though it will be watched by huge audiences in person and on television this weekend, the Kentucky Derby only offers a taste of the prominence that horse racing used to have in American culture. During the decades leading up to the Civil War, rising political tensions between the North and South fueled the nation’s fascination with widely reported and attended super-races.
This 1845 lithograph from the National Museum of American History captures a moment in time from such a race, the clash between Alabama-bred chestnut mare Peytona and New Jersey’s Fashion, known as “Queen of the Turf.”
More than 100,000 people were said to have attended this May 13, 1845 duel, which is a huge crowd considering the country’s population (94% smaller than now) and transportation options (no cars). Newspaper reports described the scene as dangerous.
Image from the National Museum of American History.