The 2013 Kentucky Derby is approaching fast (Saturday, May 4), and the excitement about the annual event has the horse racing community at a fever pitch.
Every year around this time, the thought of another horse getting its chance to cement its place in history makes fans think back on all the previous winners and each of their amazing runs toward glory.
All of the following Kentucky Derby winners made history on at the biggest horse race in American history, but these are the 10 best stallions to ever find their way into victory circle.
While Ben Brush isn’t the most famous of the Kentucky Derby winners, this is the horse that helped usher in the modern era of what we consider the biggest race in the sport.
Not only was Ben Brush the first winner at the modern-day length of 1 1/4 mile (2:07.75), he was the first horse that was given the blanket of roses that has become one of the staples of the historic event.
Brush was not the physically dominating presence like many of the others on this list, but the speed the horse had on that fateful day in 1896 was enough to cement his place along the best ever.
Just like Ben Brush, Donerail was not an intimidating horse in his heyday and came into the 1913 Kentucky Derby as a 90-1 long shot. Those aren’t good odds in any era.
In a record that still stands to this day as the longest shot to win the Derby, Donerail set the track record, stunned the world and won the entire event as the ultimate underdog with a time of 2:04.80.
The horse was never able to reach much success after that, but Donerail made his mark on the event and still holds the record 100 years later.
While Regret is far from the most talented horse on this list and a name that many casual fans may not know, in 1915, this horse became the first filly to win the Kentucky Derby.
Only two fillies have gone on to win since Regret (2:05.40)—Genuine Risk and Winning Colors—but the skill this horse showed at the Derby was enough to prove that a filly can not only run with the boys, but that a filly can win.
To understand the hype around Spectacular Bid, you have to understand the history in the sport of horse racing. With both Seattle Slew and Affirmed winning back-to-back Triple Crowns, the focus on the 1979 Kentucky Derby was tremendous.
With the horse racing community looking for a colt that could steal the show and make another assault on history, it was Spectacular Bid as a 3/5 favorite that was victorious with a time of (2:02.40), winning by 2 3/4 lengths.
Spectacular Bid went on to win the Preakness Stakes, but lost the Triple Crown chance in the Belmont Stakes. While this colt will go down in history as one of the greatest, this was the season that began the Triple Crown blues for horse racing community.
The story of Sir Barton consists of unlikely success and taking the opportunities afforded to him and making the most of them. As the 1919 Kentucky Derby victor and the first Triple Crown winner in history, Sir Barton is one of the greatest horses of all time.
Not only did Sir Barton make his season debut as a maiden—a horse that has never won before—the horse’s primary duty was to set the pace for stablemate, horse Billy Kelly.
Instead of helping to make history for another horse, Sir Barton made some history of its own by leading from start to finish and winning the race by five lengths with a time of 2:09.80.
That’s one way for a colt to make a name for itself.
World War II was over in 1946 and the United States was continuing the rebuilding efforts of our nation just years after the Great Depression and the vast loss of life in battle. It was that spring that Assault captured the American spirit and gave the people something to cheer about.
Not only did the horse win the Kentucky Derby (2:06.60) and capture the Triple Crown by winning the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, it won the Wood Memorial, Dwyer Stakes, Westchester Handicap and Pimlico Special.
Assault represented the fighting spirit of the USA, and his dominance of horse racing in 1946 was one of the first forms of national pride post-World War II.
Another horse that had a dream season during his run to Kentucky Derby glory was then-undefeated Seattle Slew in 1977.
The horse came into the event without a loss on its record and as the 1-2 favorite, and despite a slight miscue at the start, Seattle Slew was able to recover and bring it home for the victory in a time of 2:02.20.
Seattle Slew went on to complete the Triple Crown as the only horse to do so while undefeated, but it was the strong effort through adversity in the 1977 Kentucky Derby that most fans will always remember.
As one of the most famous horses of all time, War Admiral made one of his biggest impacts on the sport during the 1937 season when it won the Triple Crown, including the Kentucky Derby.
Many casual fans will know War Admiral from his famous race against Seabiscuit dubbed “The Race of the Century”, but before he made history in that one-on-one race, he was dominating the Derby.
Not only did War Admiral dominate with a time of 2:03.20, the horse managed to grab the lead out of the gate and held on throughout to capture a decisive victory and set the tone for his eventual Triple Crown win.
Affirmed was born to go down in history as one of the best by being the great-great-grandson of War Admiral, but the horse made his own mark on the sport by dominating a three-year span like none before or since.
Not only did Affirmed spend 1977 and 1979 dominating the races he was eligible to run, his three-year-old season in 1978 was one of the greatest of modern racing era.
Affirmed came into 1978 overshadowed by favorite Alydar and started the Kentucky Derby at 9-5 odds, but as the second choice in betting, most knew Affirmed still had the power and experience to win.
In what would become arguably the most intense rivalry between race horses, Affirmed held off Alydar with a 2:01.20 victory and began a dominance of the sport that included the 1978 Triple Crown.
Affirmed was the last horse to win the Triple Crown.
The greatest Kentucky Derby winner of all time was the 1973 champion, Secretariat.
Unlike most of the horses that go on to win the Derby, Secretariat started slow out of the gate. Instead of this being the beginning of the end, Secretariat used it as motivation to run the fastest race in the history of Churchill Downs.
Secretariat’s time of 1:59.40 on that day in 1973 still stands as the record for the event.
After Secretariat was done dominating the Kentucky Derby, he went on to set records at both the Preakness Stakes (1:53), and the Belmont Stakes (2:24). All three records are the benchmark for the sport.
Besides the Derby win and the Triple Crown bid, Secretariat managed to win six other races in 1973 and was decorated with every possible horse racing championship for his dominance of the sport in that season.
All of that excellence started with the huge 1973 Kentucky Derby win.