This Saturday Nyquist is going to be the 27th undefeated horse to take a stab at the Kentucky Derby. Out of the 26 horses to make the attempt, seven were able to get the job done and seven others finished in the money. Not too bad of a record, half of them finishing in the top three. But who were those undefeated horses and what all did they do?
1915 Regret, 3 races, 1st: She made her three year old debut in the Derby. Her previous three races were all at Saratoga and her first race ever was the Saratoga Special, she then won the Stanford and Hopeful. The Derby was her only race outside of New York, and she would go on to lose only two out of 11 races lifetime. In her career, only two of her races were restricted to fillies, and would be the only filly to win the Derby until Genuine Risk in 1980. She was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1957.
1916 Thunderer, 3 races, 5th: Full brother to Regret who also made his 3 year old debut in the Derby, he was the co-favorite along with seventh place finisher Dominant. He ended up finishing fifth out of nine horses and his only chart comment is “had no mishaps.” At one point in his career he set a new track record at Aqueduct.
1922 Morvich, 11 races, 1st: The black colt made the Derby his three year old debut after his sensational juvenile season. He won all 11 of his races taking the Saratoga Special, Hopeful, and Pimlico Futurity (later the Laurel Futurity) among others. He was made the betting favorite and won the race wire to wire, then never won again. He was plagued with bad knees and then developed arthritis in one of his legs which forced his retirement.
1940 Bimelech, 8 races, 2nd: The E. R. Bradley horse had an excellent juvenile year in New York winning the Saratoga Special, Hopeful, Belmont Futurity and Pimlico Futurity. He came back at three to win the Blue Grass and Derby Trial and was made the 3/5 favorite, had the lead from the start but was unable to hold off the 34-1 longshot Gallahadion. Bimelech went on to win the Preakness and Belmont and took home Champion 3yo honors and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990.
1948 Coaltown, 4 races, 2nd: Nicknamed “The Goose,” Coaltown did not race as a juvenile but did win the Phoenix against older horses in his third start and set a track record in the Blue Grass at 1:49 1/5. Going into the Derby the crowd thought he was the better Calumet horse over Citation and we all know how that ended up. While he came in second in the Derby, Coaltown later found success as a sprinter was awarded champion sprinter in 1948. At four he set or equaled three world records between a mile and a mile and a quarter, and was the 1949 Horse of the Year. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1983.
1953 Native Dancer, 11 races, 2nd: Like many before him, Native Dancer had a sensational year at two winning the Saratoga Special, Hopeful, Belmont Futurity, you know the drill. The overwhelming favorite was the start of the first nationally televised Kentucky Derby but was unable to catch the front runner Dark Star. The Derby would be Native Dancer’s only loss, as he went on to win the Preakness, Belmont, Travers, and Met Mile among other races. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1963.
1963 Candy Spots, 6 races, 3rd: The California-bred cold was the winner of both the Florida Derby and Santa Anita Derby was the favorite in Kentucky and going into the first turn was forced to check a bit. After finishing third he went on to win the Preakness, Arlington Classic and San Pasqual.
1963 No Robbery, 5 races, 5th: Won the Wood Memorial and was made second choice by the public but could not handle the Derby distance when he faded in the stretch. He had one more race, where he finished third.
1969 Majestic Prince, 7 races, 1st: With two okay races at two, he won the San Vicente, Santa Anita Derby and the Stepping Stone Purse, which was a briefly run Derby prep race at Churchill Downs along with the Derby Trial. As the 2/5 favorite he pulled off a win by a neck over who would become the Horse of the Year, Arts and Letters. He went on to win the Preakness with once again Arts and Letters close behind. Majestic Prince came out of the race with problem in a tendon, and after a lot of pressure from the public his connections reluctantly decided to run in the Belmont as fans wanted a Triple Crown. His owner Frank McMahon warned that it might end in a Crippled Crown instead. He would finish second, to Arts and Letters, and would never race again. Majestic Prince was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1988.
1977 Seattle Slew, 6 races, 1st: The undefeated colt was in front at every point in all his races going into Churchill Downs and was made the 1/2 favorite. After a rough beginning he was able to take his usual place in front and stayed there the rest of the way. He became the only horse to win the Triple Crown while undefeated but awkwardly lost his next race when his trainer said it was a bad idea, and then the trainer was fired. He would go on to finish first or second in the rest of his races and is the only Triple Crown winner to beat another one when he raced Affirmed twice. He was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 1981 and is one of the few horses to win champion juvenile, champion three year old, and champion older horse.
1978 Sensitive Prince, 6 races, 6th: Sired by Majestic Prince, Sensitive Prince had the misfortune of being born the same year as Affirmed and Alydar. Never the less the colt was able to rack up wins in the Hutchinson and Fountain of Youth before entering the Triple Crown. After finishing 6th in the Derby, he went on to finish second to Affirmed in the Jim Dandy and then as a four year old he set three track records and took home the Gulfstream Park Handicap.
1982 Air Forbes Won, 4 races, 7th: The New York hotshot took home the Gotham and Wood Memorial before running a disappointing 7th at Churchill Downs after going off as the favorite at odds of 5/2. After the Derby he had two more races finishing second in the Pennsylvania Derby and Ohio Derby where he came out of the race with a tendon injury and was retired. He went on to sire Canadian Champion Two Year Old, Mercedes Won.
1988 Private Terms, 7 races, 9th: Co-favorite in the Derby along with the speedball filly Winning Colors, Private Terms was a Janney-owned colt who was out of a half-sister to Ruffian. He wasn’t pushed at two, but at three he won the Tesio at Pimlico as well as the Gotham and Wood Memorial before going on to Kentucky. He ran a no-excuses ninth, and lost his mojo finishing fourth in the Preakness and Haskell. The last three races of his career were winning ones though with a win in the Massachusetts Handicap among them.
1990 Mister Frisky, 16 races, 8th: Mister Frisky has the record for most wins leading into the Derby, let alone consecutive wins. As a juvenile he took the Bold Forbes route and was campaigned in Puerto Rico before coming to California to race into Kentucky where he won the San Vicente, San Rafael and Santa Anita Derby. In the Kentucky Derby he ran a disappointing eighth as the 4/5 favorite. He later finished third in the Preakness when an abscess was found in his esophagus. He raced in two more allowance races the next year then was retired. He was inducted into the Puerto Rican Hall Of Fame.
1998 Indian Charlie, 4 races, 3rd: The Bob Baffert-trained colt only had four races and one stakes win, the Santa Anita Derby, under his belt before running third in the Derby behind stablemate Real Quiet. Set off at odds of 5/2, Indian Charlie was the favorite going in and afterwards was given a rest to train up to the Haskell. Unfortunately, he pulled a ligament while training and never raced again. He went on to sire four champions Fleet Indian, Indian Blessing, Uncle Mo and Canadian-champion Indian Apple Is.
2000 China Visit, 2 races, 6th: The very lightly raced Godolphin owned colt started his career in France before winning the UAE Derby. He was coupled with fellow Godolphin runner Curule at 22-1. Finishing sixth, he went back to Europe and had mild success in France and would race with less success at Nad Al Sheba before being retired to stud in India.
2000 Trippi, 4 races, 11th: The first of Todd Pletcher’s many undefeated contenders, Trippi was the Gulfstream hot shot winning the Swale and Florida Derby. He had a bit of a rough break, got up just behind the pace but failed to deliver. Afterwards he was cut back to sprinting and found success in the Riva Ridge, Tom Fool and Vosburgh. He had five races after, but never won again. At stud in South Africa, he is the sire of current South African star Inara.
2004 Smarty Jones, 6 races, 1st: The Pennsylvania colt came out of no where with two big wins at Philadelphia Park before opening his three year old season in the Count Fleet at Aqueduct. Oaklawn Park, to celebrate their 100th anniversary, put up a $5mil bonus to any horse who can win the Rebel, Arkansas Derby, and Kentucky Derby. Smarty took the bait, and swept the Arkansas preps. He went off as the 3-1 favorite and got got in traffic early but was able to pull out the win. Smarty Jones went on to win the Preakness in dominant fashion before breaking everyone’s heart losing the Belmont in his Triple Crown bid and never raced again. While is stud fee originally was $100,000, he is now standing at Calumet Farm for $7,500.
2006 Showing Up, 3 races, 6th: 2006 was a good Derby year for the Jacksons, as Showing Up was one of their two undefeated Derby contenders. He snuck into the field after just one stakes win, the Lexington just a few weeks before the Kentucky Derby. After finishing sixth, he found success on the turf winning the Secretariat, the Jamaica Breeders’ Handicap and the Hollywood Derby and finished second in the Makers Mile at Keeneland. He currently stands at stud at Adena Springs in Florida.
2006 Barbaro, 5 races, 1st: Obviously the Jackson’s favorite, Barbaro was the reverse of Showing Up as he started his career on turf but found success on the dirt. He won the Florida preps winning the Holy Bull and Florida Derby. He went on to win the Derby in dominant fashion, with everyone saying this is our Triple Crown winner. Unfortunately we all know how this story ends.
2007 Curlin, 3 races, 3rd: The curse of Apollo was strong with Curlin, who took home wins in the Rebel and Arkansas Derby before running at Churchill. 2007 was one of the Derby strongest years we’ve ever seen, and Curlin finished third behind champion Street Sense and eventual sprint champion Hard Spun. Curlin, later a champion and Hall of Famer himself, went on to win the Preakness as well as the Haskell, Jockey Club Gold Cup (twice), Breeders’ Cup Classic and later the Dubai World Cup. In 2014 he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. He is currently at stud at Hill N Dale Farm.
2008 Big Brown, 3 races, 1st: He dazzled the crowd at Saratoga with an impressive maiden win on the turf before winning an allowance at Gulfstream by 12. He then won the Florida Derby by five and went on to be the heavy favorite in Kentucky. Despite post position 20, Big Brown had a commanding win clearing the field by almost five lengths under the wire. He went on to win the Preakness dominantly before going belly up in the Belmont when he was eased. He came back to win his last two races, the Haskell and another turf stakes that was made for him the Monmouth Stakes. A disappointing sire, he is now standing in New York.
2012 Gemologist, 5 races, 16th: The second of Todd Pletcher’s undefeated disappointments, Gemologist had a win over the Churchill surface in the Kentucky Jockey Club then went on to take the Wood Memorial. He had no real trouble in the Derby, he simply just didn’t fire. He had one more race where he finished sixth in the Haskell then was retired. He is currently at stud at WinStar Farm.
2013 Verrazano, 4 races, 14th: The third of Todd Pletcher’s undefeated disappointments, Verrazano won the Tampa Bay Derby and Wood Memorial. With a sloppy track at Churchill Verrazano simply had no run in the stretch after being close to the pace early. After a break he won the Pegasus and Haskell at Monmouth before shipping to Europe to train with Aidan O’Brien where he did alright and did finish second in the Queen Anne at Ascot. He is currently standing at Ashford.
2015 Dortmund, 6 races, 3rd: Son of Big Brown and stablemate to American Pharoah, leading into the race many people were on team Dortmund until AP stole the show in the Arkansas Derby. But many still stayed on board after his gritty wins in his California prep races. Dortmund had the lead most of the way, but as unable to hold off American Pharoah and Firing Line in the stretch. After a bad performance in the Preakness he had a break then won the Big Bear and Native Diver in California to end the year. Supposedly he is still in training.
2015 Materiality, 3 races, 6th: The fourth of Todd Pletcher’s undefeated disappointments, he came into the Derby as the Florida horse with all his wins coming from Gulfstream including the Florida Derby. Unable to take his usual spot in front he gave a dull performance in both the Derby and Preakness then never raced again. He is retired, but not exactly at stud anywhere for some reason.
In the last 20 years we have had nearly half of all the undefeated Derby contenders make an appearance, so there is absolutely a recent trend that is likely due to horses being much more lightly raced than they used to be. Hell, it took 41 years for an undefeated horse to even enter the race with Regret.
Something else to mention seven of the 26 horses are now in the Hall of Fame, with another in the Puerto Rican Hall of Fame. Especially considering five of them didn’t even win!