The Kentucky Derby is one of the nation’s great sports days of the year. The colorful hats, the mint juleps, the garland of roses bestowed on the winning horse, and the singing of “My Old Kentucky Home” at Churchill Downs Racetrack are why the event is one of the best things about the state of Kentucky.
The Kentucky Derby is the first leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown, followed by the Preakness Stakes in Maryland and the Belmont Stakes in New York. Interest in horse racing surges whenever there is a possibility of a Triple Crown winner. After a 37-year drought, American Pharoah won the Triple Crown in 2015, and in 2018, Justify accomplished the feat. Though neither was among the fastest horses ever to win the Derby, the two nevertheless joined equine immortality, as only 13 horses have won the Triple Crown.
24/7 Tempo is taking this opportunity to compile a list of the most iconic/popular horses to race in the Kentucky Derby.
Though there are 144 Derby winners, some became more popular than others. Barbaro won the 2006 Derby, but weeks later was injured in the Preakness and died of complications from that injury. Barbaro was a fan favorite and has been immortalized with a statue at the entrance to Churchill Downs Racetrack.
Some horses enjoy greater popularity after they’ve won the Derby. Silver Charm, who won the 1997 Kentucky Derby, today lives out his retirement at Old Friends Farm in Georgetown, Kentucky. The owners of the farm say that tours of Old Friends Farm have doubled since Silver Charm retired there, likening his appeal to that of Elvis Presley’s.
Other horses achieved iconic status because of their performance on the track. Secretariat, who would go on to win the Triple Crown in 1973, still owns the course record at Churchill Downs and tops the list of the fastest horses in the Derby history — he made the mile-and-a-quarter trip in 1:59.40.
Alydar is also on the list, even though he did not win the Derby. Alydar would enter horse racing lore as the stallion who finished second to Affirmed in each of the three Triple Crown races in 1978. Man o’ War, one of the greatest horses of all time, is not on the list because his owner opted not to race him in the Derby. His offspring, War Admiral, won the Derby in 1937.
24/7 Tempo reviewed archival material, media resources, and information from the Kentucky Derby website to compile a list of the most iconic/popular horses to race in the Kentucky Derby. The first 13 horses on our list are Triple Crown winners. Many of the horses on this list raced after 1952, the first year the Derby was televised, which served as a boost in popularity for the sport of kings. We did include horses from earlier time, however, because noteworthy events, such as the first victory by a filly — Regret in 1915; the first radio broadcast of the Derby in 1925; and the Triple Crown winners in the 1930s, helped lift popular interest in horse facing. Odds for the winning horses were culled from the website vegasinsider.com and various horse racing websites.