At the Kentucky Derby, horses and fashion flare

  • Anxious patrons await the start of the Longines Kentucky Oaks race on May 1, 2015 at Churchill Downs in Louisville. The Oaks and the Derby are the oldest continuously contested sporting events in history.
  • A woman wearing a derby hat at the 141st Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs in Louisville on May 1, 2015.
  • Young men greet each other at the Kentucky Oaks race at Churchill Downs in Louisville on May 1, 2015.
  • A woman in her hat at the Kentucky Oaks in Louisville, Kentucky, May 1, 2015. 
  • A man wears a suit patterned with tulips at the Kentucky Oaks in Louisville, Kentucky, May 1, 2015. 
  • One of the many Derby hats at Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Oaks on May 1, 2015.
  • Spectators rest on the lawn at the Kentucky Oaks, May 1, 2015. 
  • People gather for a day of partying at Churchill Downs in Louisville on May 1, 2015.
  • People gather for a day of partying at Churchill Downs in Louisville on May 1, 2015.
  • A spectator at Churchill Downs awaits the Kentucky Oaks race in Louisville on May 1, 2015.
  • (L) A young woman waits inline to use the portable toilets and (R) and young man has a moment to himself during the Kentucky Oaks on May 1, 2015.
  • Women on the lawn during the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on May 1, 2015.
  • Women dressed in their Derby hats take a rest on Kentucky Oaks race day, May 1, 2015.
  • Spectators watch the 141st Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on May 1, 2015.
  • The 141st Kentucky Oaks. Jockey Kerwin Clark and Lovely Maria’s won the race at Churchill Downs in Louisville on May 1, 2015.
  • Celebrations following jockey Kerwin Clark and Lovely Maria’s victory of the 141st Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs in Louisville on May 1, 2015.
  • Jockey Kerwin Clark following his win of the 141st Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs in Louisville on May 1, 2015.
  • A man takes a selfie at Churchill Downs during the Kentucky Oaks race at Churchill Downs in Louisville on May 1, 2015.
  • Jim and Irene Leuenberger from Shawano, Wisconsin dressed to the nines on their 21st year at the Derby.
  • The first turn of the 2nd race on May 2nd at Churchill Downs, eventually won by horse #7, Island Town, ridden by jockey Julien Leparoux.
  • A man watches the races at Churchill Downs in Louisville on May 2, 2015.
  • The initial straightaway, during the 3rd race on May 2nd at Churchill Downs, eventually won by the horse #4, West Village, ridden by jockey Rafael Bejarano.
  • A young boy eagerly watches the races at Churchill Downs in Louisville on May 2, 2015.
  • Fashion at Churchill Downs as patrons watch the Kentucky Derby on May 2, 2015.
  • Hats at Churchill Downs during the Kentucky Derby on May 2, 2015.
  • After a day of mint juleps many took naps in the sun while waiting for the big race to start at Churchill Downs.
  • The first turn, during the 3rd race - the first on turf - on May 2nd at Churchill Downs, eventually won by the horse #4, West Village.
  • Record breaking crowds at Churchill Downs for the 141st Kentucky Derby on May 2, 2015.
  • Booze, sleep and sunburns are the name of the game in the infield at the Kentucky Derby where patrons start drinking Mint Juleps as soon as the track opens in the morning. Here a man naps it off waiting for the big race to start.
  • Unknown Horse - Veins bulge and sweat glistens post-race on Derby Day at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.
  • Jockey’s colors and prints always stand out. Embellishments, like this shoulder fringe on jockey Brian Hernandez Jr., who finished 3rd atop Moonlit Stroll in the Humana Distaff at Churchill Downs, made quite a statement.
  • A woman with bets written on her hand awaits the start of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 2, 2015.
  • Jose (R), who works in the stables behind Churchill Downs year-round, has a moment of peace post-race.  His counterpart (L), whose name I didn’t get, contemplates horses and wagers while wearing a suit patterned with hundred dollar bills - a pattern popular amongst the men at this year’s Derby. 
  • A woman suns herself while waiting for the big race to start at Churchill Downs on May 2, 2015.
  • Waiting for the big race to start at Churchill Downs on May 2, 2015.
  • Patrons all decked out in full regalia at the 141st Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville.
  • A young man smokes a cigar at Churchill Downs during the 141st Kentucky Derby in Louisville on May 2, 2015.
  • First turn with American Pharoah and jockey Victor Espinoza on their way to winning the 141st Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 2, 2015.
  • Cheering fans celebrate as American Pharoah and jockey Victor Espinoza win the 141st Kentucky Derby on May 2, 2015.
  • A couple celebrates as American Pharoah and jockey Victor Espinoza win the 141st Kentucky Derby on May 2, 2015.
  • Jockey Victor Espinoza and American Pharoah right after winning the 141st Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville on May 2, 2015.
  • the jubilant crowd following American Pharoah and jockey Victor Espinoza’s win the 141st Kentucky Derby on May 2, 2015.
  • A young man dressed for the occasion at Churchill Downs in Louisville on May 2, 2015.
  • Jockey Victor Espinoza riding American Pharoah smiles to the crowd after winning the 141st Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville on May 2, 2015.
  • Crowds begin to leave Churchill Downs in Louisville as another Kentucky Derby comes to an end on May 2, 2015.

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At the Kentucky Derby, the tradition is just as much about atmosphere as it is about the contest itself. Among spectators, the bourbon mint julep is the thirst-quencher of choice, cooling bellies full of burgoo— a thick, hot beef, chicken, pork and vegetable stew that’s locally popular.

The Kentucky sun glares down over the sea of elaborate ladies’ hats decorating the infield. 

And then there are the horses. 

They parade before the grandstands to the tune of “My Old Kentucky Home,” played by the University of Louisville Marching Band.

American Pharoah’s polished brown coat glittered across the finish line as the thoroughbred and his jockey, Victor Espinoza, outran 16 other horses to take the coveted blanket of roses at the 141st running of the race. He completed the 1 ¼ miles in 2:03.02.

With Saturday’s victory before a record-breaking crowd of 170,513 in Louisville, Kentucky, American Pharoah became the third straight favorite to win the Derby and a hopeful for the Triple Crown, which has not had a winner since 1978.

The race—also known as The Run for the Roses—is considered America’s biggest, and is often referred to as “the most exciting two minutes in sports.” It is the first leg of the American Triple Crown, and is followed by the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore, in two weeks, and the June 6 Belmont Stakes in Elmont, New York.

The Kentucky Derby is the only race of the three that has been run every consecutive year since 1875. The lush rose blanket awarded to the winner is made of 554 red roses—the race’s official flower.

Pictured above are scenes from Saturday’s spectacle at Derbytown, photographed by Nils Ericson. 

For more feature photography, go to msnbc.com/photography 

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