The triple crown was elevated to a commonly known term thanks to Secretariat in the early 70s. Even the younger generations are familiar with it due to a movie made about him in 2010. Maybe today’s generation doesn’t know what the Triple Crown is, but that does not diminish its importance and history.
The Triple Crown is the culmination of three prestigious horse races – the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes. A horse must win all three to be a Triple Crown winner. There have only been thirteen Triple Crown winners from Sir Barton in 1919 to Justify in 2018. Will there be another winner this year?
The Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Kentucky Oaks, Kentucky, is the first of the three races of the Triple Crown. If you don’t win the Derby, you will not win the Triple Crown. The 146th annual Kentucky Derby was postponed to September this year, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Traditionally, the Kentucky Derby takes place the first Saturday in May. The 2020 Kentucky Derby will be run Saturday, September 5th. It is known as both the “most exciting two minutes in sports” and “the fastest two minutes in sports.” The Kentucky Derby has a rich history of memorable races. Let’s take a look at some of the most memorable moments.
1. Secretariat, 1973
Horseracing had waited 25 years, since Citation in 1948, for another Triple Crown winner. Any new Triple Crown winner would first have to win the Kentucky Derby. Secretariat took that first step in 1973. He would go on to claim the Triple Crown after wins at Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes.
Secretaries Derby win in 1973 does not rank among the best races in the history of the Kentucky Derby, but it was the fastest to date. Secretariat’s final time was 1:59.40 – the best in 139 races. He defeated Sham, who also finished with a time that would have broken the previous Derby record.
If there were an article on the unluckiest horse in the history of the Kentucky Derby, Sham would make the list. A great racehorse – born the same year as Secretariat. Oh, what might have been.
2. Mind That Bird, 2009
The second-largest payout price in Kentucky Derby history is reasoning enough for Mind That Bird’s win in 2009 to make any list of most memorable Derby moments. It’s the way he won that places this race near the top.
Coming from 14th place in the final turn, Mind That Bird’s jockey’s, Calvin Borel, ride along the inside rail could easily be the best performance by any jockey in the history of the Derby. Clinging to the inside rail, leaving only one time for an outside pass, Borel rode Mind That Bird at an amazing pace to overtake nearly the entire field and convincingly win the Derby.
The 2009 Kentucky Derby was an incredible race to watch. It has over a million views from various sites on the Internet.
3. Big Brown, 2008
In 2008, with 20 horses in the field, there were two starting gates. The main gate runs from position 1, against the rail, to 14. An auxiliary gate is added for starting positions 15 to 20. In the 2008 Kentucky Derby, Rick Dutrow, Big Brown’s trainer, had his choice of gates 1, 2, 18, 19, or 20. He chose gate 20, siting it would give Big Brown and his jockey Kent Desormeaux more room to break from the outside and clear the remaining field to save ground.
At the start, Desormeaux did not push Big Brown, but let him settle into a good position at the first turn. At the final turn, Big Brown showed a burst of speed that took him to the lead, winning the Derby by four and three-quarter lengths. Big Brown was the first horse to win from gate 20 since 1929.
4. Barbaro, 2006
Barbaro is a horse that makes this list not because of a photo finish. Barbaro, at 6-1, won decisively in the Kentucky Derby. He won by six and a half lengths. There are two reasons Barbaro’s victory is in this list.
First, Barbaro steadily increased his lead down the home stretch, even though he had an unsurpassable lead, and his jockey did not use his whip. Down the final stretch, Barbaro had more fuel in the tank. He made sure everyone knew his speed and endurance extended beyond the distance of the Kentucky Derby. Barbaro established his superiority as a racehorse and had a great future ahead of him.
The second reason is tragic. After winning the Kentucky Derby, Barbaro looked to be a contender to win the Triple Crown the first time since Affirm, in 1979. These expectations came to an abrupt end with Barbaro shattered his leg in the Preakness Stakes. He fought back from his injury, showing his superiority and strength as a racehorse. He was well-loved by fans around the world, who sent him cards, flowers, notes, and gifts during his recovery. Barbaro’s story is one of hope and inspiration.
Understanding the love and admiration shown for Barbaro owners, Roy and Gretchen Jackson, arranged for his remains to be buried at the entrance to Churchill Down’s, the home of the Kentucky Derby. There is also a large bronze statue to commemorate his victory. Fans visiting Churchill Downs take photos with Barbaro’s statue and leave roses and personal notes.
Jody Miller is a professional photographer specializing in Horse Photography, Equine Photography, and Equestrian photography. Her work can be viewed online here in her gallery section, and she is also featured at these Arizona Galleries: Van Gogh’s Ear Gallery on Whiskey Row in Prescott, AZ and Coops Coffee House at Talking Rock Ranch. Several images are also available at the current exhibit, Hold Your Horses showing at The Phippen Western Art Museum