9 Unforgettable Kentucky Derbies

Between 1973 and 2015, racing fans saw some especially memorable Kentucky Derbies. Here's a look back at 9 of them.

The Kentucky Derby
The Kentucky Derby by Roderick Eime on flickr/CC BY 2.0

Few sporting events in the world can claim such a rich history as the Kentucky Derby, which never fails to produce its share of great stories each year. The Derby has been run continuously since 1875, and over the last 141 years, we’ve seen some great horses achieve memorable victories under the fabled “Twin Spires” at Churchill Downs. With just about a week remaining until the 2016 Kentucky Derby, let’s relive nine unforgettable editions of the Derby!

1. Secretariat in 1973

The legendary Secretariat set the standard by which all Derby winners are measured, as he achieved the impossible feat of increasing his speed as the race progressed, allowing him to win in the track record time of 1:59.40 seconds, which still stands as by far the fastest winning time in the history of the Derby.


2. Genuine Risk in 1980

Few thought that the filly Genuine Risk had a legitimate chance to win the Derby, but she proved her doubters wrong by rallying from the middle of the pack to beat twelve talented colts and become the first filly in 65 years to win the Derby.


3. Ferdinand in 1986

Trainer Charles Whittingham was 73 years old and jockey Bill Shoemaker was 54 years old, but when they teamed up in the Kentucky Derby with the longshot Ferdinand, they couldn’t be stopped. In one of the most unforgettable rides in the history of the Derby, Shoemaker guided Ferdinand up the rail to win decisively, and Ferdinand remains the last horse to win the Derby while starting from post position one.


4. Winning Colors in 1988

The last filly to win the Derby was the front-running grey sensation Winning Colors, who led from gate to wire to win by a determined neck. Her jockey, Gary Stevens, is still riding champions at the age of 53 despite undergoing knee replacement surgery in 2014, and he will ride the talented Mor Spirit in the 2016 Kentucky Derby.


5. Silver Charm in 1997

Gary Stevens’ most recent Derby win came aboard the tough-as-nails Silver Charm, a gritty grey colt named for his unwavering determination and will to win. In one of the closest Derby finishes in history, Silver Charm triumphed by a head after a long battle in the homestretch. Silver Charm was trained by Bob Baffert, who will team up with Stevens in the 2016 Derby with Mor Spirit.


6. Funny Cide in 2003

It had been 74 years since a gelding had won the Kentucky Derby, but no one told that to Funny Cide, the “gutsy gelding” that pulled off a surprising upset when he turned back a challenge from favored Empire Maker to win the Derby. His ultimately unsuccessful bid to win the Triple Crown became a huge story in national media and helped inspire a new generation of horse racing fans.


7. Smarty Jones in 2004

One year after Funny Cide, the unheralded Pennsylvania-bred racehorse Smarty Jones captured the hearts of the nation with his victory in the Kentucky Derby and subsequent domination of the Preakness Stakes. Although he lost the Triple Crown when forced to set a fast pace in the Belmont Stakes, he is still beloved by his legions of fans and currently resides as a stallion at the legendary Calumet Farm in Kentucky.


8. Mine That Bird in 2009

Coming into the 2009 Kentucky Derby, few people had ever heard of Mine That Bird, but when jockey Calvin Borel employed a rail-skimming ride to guide Mine That Bird to Derby glory, his story—later retold in the movie 50-1—became one of the greatest in Derby history.


9. American Pharoah in 2015

No horse had won the Triple Crown in 37 years, but when the brilliant American Pharoah prevailed in the 2015 Kentucky Derby, racing fans everywhere crossed their fingers that he would be the one to end the drought. Amazingly, he did just that, winning the Preakness and Belmont to earn his place in the history books as one of the greatest racehorses of all time.


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J. Keeler Johnson is a freelance writer, blogger, videographer, and racing enthusiast who considers Zenyatta to be his all-time favorite racehorse. He lives in Wisconsin and is the founder of...


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