The first Saturday in May. A special day. Why? The Kentucky Derby runs the first Saturday in May and has since 1875. The Derby is the longest running sports event in America. The athletes who run the Derby are magnificent as a whole, making those who stand out in this field of champions unique in their own right. Those who make their run for the roses have only one shot at the prize. Who are some of these standouts? You likely already know their names.
Winner of the Kentucky Derby and the Triple Crown in 1973, Secretariat is a legend. He was the first Triple Crown winner after a 25-year gap, winning the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths. His owner, Penny Chenery, also broke tradition; she was the first woman to join The Jockey Club. Secretariat, known to many as Big Red, was known to pose for pictures. When he won the Derby, his speed around the track increased with every quarter mile unlike more horses, who start fast and then slow as they traverse the track. The movie based on his career is unique in that even though the outcome of each race is well documented, viewers still find themselves on the edge of their seats cheering him on. The credits show photos of the actual people in his life and Penny had a small cameo spot in the crowd reaction when he won the Triple Crown. Secretariat set the standard high for all the racehorses that followed him.
Seattle Slew won the Derby in 1977. His name was derived from terms and tools used in the logging industry. The 10thhorse to win the Triple Crown, he had an undefeated record at 9-0. Seattle Slew overcame several obstacles on Derby day – he walked past the band just as they began playing at full volume which startled him and the crowds were intense to the point that he kicked the walls of his stall. However, he regained his composure to win. He and Affirmed (both Triple Crown winners) raced later in their careers, Seattle Slew won . . . again.
Known as ‘the people’s horse,’ California Chrome won the Kentucky Derby in 2014. He was named American Horse of the Year in 2014 and 2016. His winnings are over $13 million and given the low cost for his breeding, the return on investment is amazing. His original name was Junior until his owners put names in the hat and had a waitress select one. At the Derby, one of his saddlecloths was misspelled as ‘Califorina Chrome’ – his owners saw that as a good luck symbol and requested the same spelling at the Preakness and the Belmont.
The Triple Crown winner in 2015, American Pharoah is a 5thgeneration of Secretariat. He won his Triple Crown after a 37-year drought. To keep him calm, he usually raced wearing earplugs, so he might not have heard all the cheering as he crossed the victory line. His short tail was caused by another horse, who bit off a chunk of it. No matter, he became a winner and since his name was misspelled when submitted, we may all forget the correct spelling for “pharaoh.”
Who will win the Kentucky Derby for 2019? Who knows, but it will be a spectacle worth watching – from the hats, to the mint juleps, to the bright silks, and those amazing thoroughbreds! There’s nothing else like the Run for the Roses – the Kentucky Derby!