Originally from University Place, WA moved to Kentucky in 2010 until 2015 and now live in Pennsylvania working at Penn National. I've been into racing since 2004 all thanks to Smarty Jones and have been obsessed with it since, especially the history of it all.
A few days ago it became official that the 110 year old Rockingham Park up in New Hampshire, a track once called the “finest racetrack in the world,” is closed for good. So naturally once I heard that news and was planning a trip to Massachusetts anyways, I knew I had to hop up to Rockingham to see it before it comes down.
And what a weird sight it was!
While the track wasn’t actually abandoned, it has been used as an OTB since the last race in 2009, it still had a spooky vibe to it. The rain really added to it!
The saddling area of the paddock was completely overgrown as they out the benches under the cover. But the rest of it wasn’t all that bad and even looks like it was manicured for a while.
Jock’s Club has a bit more of a punch to it than Jockey’s Room.
Opened in June in 1906, Rockingham was instantly popular with fans from all over the Northeast with people coming in by train from Boston, New York, and even Rhode Island.
While gambling was illegal in New Hampshire at the time, underground wagering was a common sight.
What appeared to be dorms, it was a two-story building at the top of the stretch.
Edit Sept 12: Commenters below have informed me that this was actually the racing office and not dorms, thanks guys!
The Vet’s office was the creepiest part of the track. It almost looked like a bomb went off and they had to leave in a hurry. Located next to the dorms at the quarter pole.
All calendars in the Vet’s office stopped on August 2009, when the last standardbred races were held.
A lot of X-rays were left behind.
At the top of the stretch is the maintenance shed, still had straw and tractors inside.
A lot of the stalls still had names of horses on them, this horse Ate a Gator last raced there in 2001 for trainer George Handy.
George still trains to this day down in Florida, he had his first winner in 1946. Seriously.
In June 1933, Rockingham became the first track in New England to offer legalized gambling, 15,000 people showed up the first day.
In 1951, Rockingham was the first track to use the moving starting gate.
While the track is 110 years old, the building is at most 32 years old after a fire burned it all down in 1980. The grandstand we see now was opened in 1984.
The track is referred to just as “the rock,” and suspiciously that part of the tote board sign is missing.
The tracks motto was also “Let’s Rock!” which is awesome.
Inside the tote board is just strange looking.
Since standardbreds went for a few more years after the thoroughbreds, the dirt of the track was a lot more compact than the dirt used for thoroughbreds so it wasn’t really a muddy area.
The premier race at Rockingham was the New Hampsire Sweepstakes. It went through a lot of turbulent times, was even won by Dr. Fager in 1967. But the final running was in 2002 won by Del Mar Show. Unfortunately there isn’t a good version of that race online, but there is of the 2001 running when Hap pulled away from Gander in the stretch. Bill Mott won both, so basically the same thing.
The whole experience really had almost a post-apocalyptic vibe to it everywhere I went. From the stands to the backside a lot of things were just abandoned and falling apart.
Construction crews wasted no time and within a week of them announcing it will be taken down they were already hard at work dismantling everything. I wanted to get into the grandstand but was almost asked to leave by two guys at different times. They both said I could walk around outside but couldn’t go in without a hardhat since it is an active construction zone. Bummer.
Overall it was a really surreal experience. Only heard good things about the track from so many people so it was really cool to be able to see it in person. Too bad there was never a chance to see it when it was active.
For now their website is still active, and there’s a really cool detailed timeline of the track’s history if you want to read more about the track!
Tomorrow is the 147th Travers Stakes, the oldest graded race in America first held in 1864. It is named for William Travers, Saratoga’s first President and the least interesting of the track’s founders (others being John Morrissey and Cornelius Vanderbilt.) William actually won that first running with his horse Kentucky. Today, the trophy presented to the winner wasn’t even meant to be used for the Travers.
In 1920 it cost $5,000 (about $60,000 today) for Tiffany and Co. to design the trophy for Abe Orpen of Kenilworth Park. The occasion? The Race of the Century between Man O’ War and Sir Barton.
Winner of 19 out of 20 races at the time, Man O’ War was borderline unbeatable. Unfortunately, horses were dodging him like crazy and filling racing he was in was impossible. As a three year old the biggest field he ran in was four in the Potomac Handicap.
There were two other standouts that year, Triple Crown winner Sir Barton who was coming in hot off a five race win streak, and the sensational gelding Exterminator.
Kenilworth Park offered up $50,000 ($600,000 today) for a race between the three horses. Matt Winn of Churchill Downs offered up $75,000 ($900,000) to have the race in Louisville. Kenilworth Park eventually upped their offer to $75,000 and made the race 1 1/4 miles which the Man O’ War and Sir Barton camps agreed on. A disgruntled Exterminator dropped out of the race for a few reasons, you can read more about it here.
In that race rumor has it Sir Barton was given cocaine beforehand but it didn’t help him much. Man O’ War led the whole way around and won by seven lengths in a hand ride.
The race would be Man O’ War’s last, he then lived out his days at Faraway Farm in Kentucky as a wildly successful sire.
Sir Barton would race three more times that year, didn’t win any and was retired. A failure at stud, he lived out his days with a $10 stud fee with the military. They gave him a statue when he was buried in Douglas, Wyoming but apparently its just plastic and is some stock one anyone can buy of a random horse. Poor Sir Barton.
Sixteen years later Elizabeth Riddle, wife of Sam Riddle, donated the Kenilworth Trophy to Saratoga in 1936. The track made it the trophy for the Travers Stakes, a race Man O’ War won in 1920.
Some online sources say Mrs. Riddle donated the trophy after her husband’s death in 1951, while most don’t give a date at all. 1951 is unlikely since she passed away before Sam in 1942. The trophy itself says it was donated in 1936 and the Chicago Tribune reports thatthe Belair Stud colt Granville was the first to be presented the cup in 1936.
Elizabeth donated the cup on one condition: that every year a member of the Riddle family will present the trophy to the winner. To this day, the tradition continues. On top of that, the winning owner of the Travers receives a mini replica of the Man O’ War Cup to keep.
This year marks the 80th anniversary of the Man O’ War Cup being used for the Travers and 96 years since the Kenilworth Cup. However, it will be the 81st time a replica trophy is given out since in 2012 two were given out after Golden Ticket and Alpha dead heated.
Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella was visibly upset today when talking to the press on whether or not his car will be fit to drive tomorrow.
Earlier today his 2014 Mercedes lagged a bit when he tried to accelerate getting on to I-5 after the works at Del Mar. After some encouragement, the car finally shifted to a higher gear just in time to merge. “It was weird, I’ve never seen it that dull before,” Mandella said this evening.
With Beholder finally set to run in the Pacific Classic on August 20, because YOLO, the Hall of Famer thought his problems were behind him.
“It is probably low on transmission fluid, but who knows. We’re gonna get it scoped and checked out before I take it out on the road again. Don’t wanna drive unless it is 100%.”
Mandella plans on taking Uber until he gets it sorted out.
Nothing like an undefeated champion two year old winning Derby and never winning again, right? Nyquist is on track to being the second horse to accomplish that feat.
In 1921 a black California-bred colt named Morvich stunned the racing community when he went 11 for 11 at two. Before he started racing he was given the nickname “the ugly cripple” and was 30-1 in his first race! At least he was a fast cripple.
Morvich did not race in 1922 until the Kentucky Derby which he won with ease. He likely would have run in the Preakness as well but considering in 1922 they were run on the same day that would have been tricky, especially back then.
After the Derby there were talks of whether or not he was as good as Man O’ War. (Fun fact: In that Derby was My Play, a full brother to Man O’ War.) Some guy named “Honest” John Kelly said, “I will wait before he has completed this season’s work before calling him a greater horse than Man O’ War.” Hmmm.
One race all he had to do was beat one horse. The seven furlong Greenwich Handicap had 11 horses entered but everyone else scratched, Morvich ended up getting crushed by Surf Rider. He had one more race in September at Belmont where he finished last in the Fall Highweight Handicap. His owner Ben Bock insisted he would come back in 1923, but he didn’t and retired in shame. He even stunk as a sire too. Tough to be Morvich.
Fast forward nearly 100 years and here we are with Nyquist. The undefeated champion two year old won the Kentucky Derby and has racked up over $5,000,000. Next thing we know he’s had two races since and lost them both, pretty soundly too.
Are we seeing a repeat of Morvich? To Nyquist’s credit no one has ever called him a cripple or ugly.
What’s crazy is all three horses who have come into the Kentucky Derby as an undefeated champ left with roses on their back. Morvich, Seattle Slew, and Nyquist. Since Nyquist didn’t win the Triple Crown like Seattle Slew, well,we can see where his career is heading. Because obviously, he only has two options. Triple Crown or lose forever.
Who knows how Nyquist will do the rest of the year. His last two races were basically the same, so he’ll probably bounce back eventually if he gets a fast track or gets off the rail.
Best of luck Nyquist, don’t end up like Morvich. (oops)
You can read more about Morvich in his autobiography here.
*As of the Pennsylvania Derby on 9/24/2016, he did not bounce back and if anything did even worse. Uh oh.
*As of 10/29/2016 he scratched out of the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Future undetermined, but will stand at Darley when he retires. Still winless since the Kentucky Derby
*As of 10/31/2016 Nyquist is officially retired and already at Darley. Its all over. Nyquist is the second coming of Morvich.
After having an okay year at two, a sensational three year old campaign and a mediocre four year old year, Hall of Famer Rachel Alexandra is living the good life at Stonestreet Farm out in Lexington, KY.
The farm’s founder Jess Jackson’s middle name is seriously Stonestreet, which is where the farm gets the name.
“Yeah it’s pretty nice, I get to hang out in a field all day. Sometimes I have to come in at night, or for the farrier or vet checkups or whatever. Otherwise I’m just chilling,” Rachel told a group of fans traveling from Wisconsin to meet their favorite champion.
We all know the story of Rachel Alexanda’s problems with actually having babies, especially when her last foal Rachel’s Valentina really came out swinging.
Today Rachel has it easy while most mares around her live with being pregnant. “I don’t feel that bad for them,” Rachel laughs, “sure it sucks, but I’ve been there and then some.”
Pasture-mate Hot Dixie Chick gets really annoyed with Rachel sometimes but tries to stick up for her. “Sure, we know what happened to her. It was horrifying for all of us. But she should stop dismissing our problems. Being pregnant sucks!” Dixie took a moment to grab a bite of grass, “but maybe she’s depressed and projecting. She’s been through a lot.”
Another mare on the farm is Eclipse Award winner My Miss Aurelia who does not have anything nice to say about Rachel’s recent attitude. “Listen, we get it. She’s a Horse of the Year and in the Hall of Fame, and 100% of her foals are winners. Cool. But we got a great band here with a lot of accomplished mares! Hell, I actually won the Breeders’ Cup unlike her.”
Fiftyshadesofhay gained some twitter fame a few years ago only because of her name. Still a good runner, Stonestreet purchased her for $1.3mil at Keeneland in 2014. “Two year old American Pharoah was easier to deal with in Baffert’s barn than Rachel is here,” the mare scoffed.
“I hate her,” Sassy Image barked from the other side of the field.
Looking around, it was hard not to be impressed with the quality that Stonestreet boards. Even going international with the New Zealand champion Bounding had something to say about Rachel, “yeah mate she can piss off.”
Dreaming of Julia and Kauai Katie declined to comment.
While Rachel does not get turned out with pregnant mares, she can still chat with them in neighboring fields. Those with her are on their gap year between pregnancies and look like they would prefer to just be bred every year than have a season out with Rachel.
“I think they’re just jealous,” Rachel shrugged before galloping off.
“Scrappy T comes away with the lead! But Afleet Alex is–oh Scrappy T blew the turn!”
We all remember that terrifying moment at the top of the stretch in the 2005 Preakness when Afleet Alex clipped heels, fell to his knees and almost went down. No one remembers it better than Scrappy T.
“It still haunts me to this day,” said Scrappy T while pacing along the fence line in his pasture, “what if he actually fell? What if he died? After all the hype and feel good story with Alex and her lemonade… My god I almost ruined everything.”
11 years later it is clear he is still shaken from the experience.
“I still have nightmares about it. Afleet Alex has said its fine, no one got hurt so its all good. That’s not the point, it was almost a tragedy and it was all my fault. How was I supposed to know Ramon would go left handed at the top of the stretch? Who does that?! Of course I’ll blow the turn!” Visibly distraught, he needed a break to go roll in some mud.
After a solid racing career, Scrappy T was originally retired to a farm in Virginia where he competed in shows. Like he always does he completely blew that opportunity, so now he is living down in Florida like most grumpy old men. His owner bought that new place as a pinhooking operation and turns Scrappy out with the yearlings to teach them a thing or two about life. “Don’t panic when you get hit on your left side,” Scrappy told the yearlings. “It will scare you, it will come out of no where, you wont know how to react. But whatever you do, do not bolt!”The yearlings took note of Scrappy’s wise words.
Today Scrappy and Alex are good friends, they snapchat almost every day. But sometimes Alex will make low blow jokes, “LOL almost tripped!” and it really hits home for Scrappy.
Winning the Derby is the dream of almost everyone in the sport, and those who say otherwise are totally lying. But what happens after you reach the top? Turns out, while most go on to find later success, a decent chunk horses never saw the winners’ circle ever again! Who are all those horses who suffer from Post-Derby Depression?
2013 Orb, the royally bred most blue-blooded horse of all time was the favorite loading into the gate coming in hot off a four-race win streak. He had a solid win in Kentucky on a sloppy track, raced four more times in the Preakness, Belmont, Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup finishing no better than third. He’s now standing at stud at Claiborne Farm for $25,000.
2010 Super Saver, giving Grade One and Done Todd Pletcher his first Kentucky Derby win, Super Saver entered the gate as second choice behind Lookin’ At Lucky. Naturally, the next move was the Preakness where he finished eighth. Raced in the Haskell and Travers, Super Saver failed to finish in the money in both. He’s now at stud at WinStar Farm for $65,000 and has sired Breeders’ Cup and Eclipse Award winner Runhappy.
2009 Mine That Bird, the second longest shot to ever win the Derby at 50-1, the weird mix of being a Canadian and Southwestern horse came out of no where when he won at Churchill Downs. He came in second in the Preakness, third in the Belmont which almost validated his win, however he had a lackluster career where he had throat surgery and a trainer switch to D. Wayne Lukas and at four never finished better than fifth. Today he’s just doing whatever and pops up every now and then at random events.
2006 Barbaro, this is admittedly awkward so we’ll let this one slide since you all know the story.
2001 Monarchos won the Derby on a lightning fast surface becoming the second horse to win in under two minutes. He threw in two subpar performances in the Preakness and Belmont, and took time off and had a bad return at four and was retired. He’s currently at stud at Nuckols Farm for $2,000 and has sired Breeders’ Cup and Eclipse Award winner Informed Decision.
1996 Grindstone, never much of a standout, he barely got up in time to win the Derby running in the middle of the stretch. He retired a few days later when a knee chip was found. Today he is standing at Oakhurst Farm in Oregon for a fee of $1,500 and sired Triple Crown spoiler Birdstone.
1994 Go For Gin did manage to come in second in the Preakness and Belmont, but he seemed to tail off as the year dragged on struggling to finish in the money. He was given three more races at four, but never was quite the same horse he was in the spring of his three year old year. Today he is retired from stud at the Kentucky Horse Park and is the sire of Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Albert the Great.
1970 Dust Commander took the Kentucky Derby by about five lengths. He raced a total 23 times at three but only won four times, at four he was unable to hit the board in five attempts. At stud he stood at multiple farms and even had a stint in Japan, and is now buried at the Kentucky Derby Museum. He sired 1975 Preakness winner Master Derby.
1953 Dark Star was the longshot winner of the first nationally televised Kentucky Derby and gave heavy favorite Native Dancer his only career defeat. All set for a rematch in the Preakness, Dark Star sustained a tendon injury and never raced again. His son My Dad George is one of three horses to be the favorite in all three Triple Crown races yet not win a single won. Also the sire of French Broodmare of the Year, Gazala II.
1945 Hoop Jr., owned by Fred W Hooper, was the first horse Hooper had ever owned and named the horse after his son, Fred Junior. One of the favorites for the Derby, the horse won comfortably by six lengths. Unfortunately in the Preakness Hoop Jr. bowed a tendon and never raced again. He was a mediocre sire.
1933 Brokers Tip, in 14 races in the horse’s three years on the track, he had only one win and that was the Kentucky Derby. Hey if you’re gonna win one race, might as well be that one right? Not only that, it was the “fighting finish” Kentucky Derby! He sired Market Wise who beat Whirlaway in the Jockey Club Gold Cup back when that race was a really big deal.
1926 Bubbling Over, like Grindstone, he was quickly retired after winning the Kentucky Derby due to injury after having a solid career winning the Champagne, Nursery and Blue Grass Stakes. He stood at Idle Hour Stock Farm where he sired Kentucky Derby winner Burgoo King.
1925 Flying Ebony, absolutely flew home in a sloppy Derby finishing in 2:07 3/5, he had a few more races but was unable to get it done in three tries. He was an okay stallion and his most notable song was Flying Heels who was a stakes winner from ages two through six.
1922 Morvich, with one of the best two year old seasons in the history of racing, winning all 11 of his races including the US Hotel, Saratoga Special, Hopeful, and Pimlico Futurity (now the Laurel Futurity). His first race of 1922 was the Kentucky Derby, a few weeks later he developed osselet (arthritis, basically) in one of his fetlocks and was never the same. His record as a sire reflected more his three year old year than his two year old year.
1921 Behave Yourself, with the same owner as Brokers Tip and Bubbling Over, the E. R. Bradley colt beat his stablemate and two H. P. Whitney runners, but went unplaced in the rest of his races including the Ben Ali Handicap, the Saratoga Handicap as well as the Latonia Championship. Not even a winner as a sire, E. R. Bradley sold him to the cavalry in Wyoming where he sired military horses.
1907 Pink Star, described as a “lumbering and ugly mount” and known for being a bad actor, Pink Star had an unremarkable juvenile season and was unable to win again after the Derby. In 1908 he was gelded because of his sour attitude. He lived out his days as a run of the mill farm horse and all we know about him is that he was dead as of 1914. Obviously, Pink Star was a very popular horse with the fans.
1899 Manuel, with a decent career at two, his only real win came in the Kentucky Derby just a few days after the Derby founder Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark committed suicide. A few days later in training at Churchill Downs he stepped in a hole and injured his leg. He was sold at the age of four, and died shortly thereafter.
Out of 142 horses who have won the Kentucky Derby, only 17 were never able to win again. So far at least, Nyquist might pull a Seattle Slew or maybe he’ll pull a Morvich. Who knows!
With six of those in the last 20 years. Interesting to note too that E. R. Bradley owned three of these horses, Broker’s Tip, Bubbling Over and Behave Yourself.
Happy Thurby! We are just days away from the Kentucky Derby and here is the field!
My Man Sam
Oh my god this is so exciting. People are really having a good time whining about the field, but whatever its a solid bunch the top 1/3 as always is solid and the bottom 1/3 is horrible as always so I don’t know what people want.
Good news is it looks like the main horses did not really get screwed on the draw. Besides maybe Brody’s Cause and Suddenbreakingnews they all really got solid spots.
There are two best case scenarios in this Derby.
First one is Laoban, everyone’s favorite maiden, pulling in because Oscar Nominated scratched. No one likes Oscar anyways, including his sponsor. But Laoban is the best and he is trained by everyone’s favorite voodoo artist Eric Guillot. Just the idea of Guillot in the winners’ circle with a maiden is just fantastic. The other maiden is Trojan War who has been a total psycho in the mornings and really doesn’t look good, he’s in the one hole too which is just rough. Him winning would not be nearly as fun as Laoban.
The other best case scenario is Big Dick Lani taking it home. The Japanese sensation is thrilled to be at Churchill Downs and comes out to the track swinging past his knees. His crew is really cool too, they’re all very friendly and very proud of the horse but are visibly embarrassed when he walks onto the track to train, but they’re embarrassed about the wrong thing. His training is weird, theyre not even gonna school him in the paddock but WHO CARES how nutty would it be if BDL does it?!
I am admittedly disappointed that Mo Tom didn’t draw the rail since he loves it so much. The unluckiest horse is still in number four so its not that great. You need luck to win a race, let alone the Derby and he has none. Meanwhile his owners have the current favorite to finish second with Tom’s Ready! It just isn’t the Triple Crown without Dallas Stewart coming in second.
The Asmussen duo Gun Runner and Creator both are looking super. Creator definitely wins the pretty pony contest but it would also be great to see Ricardo Santana win. Creator is getting better and better every race and his Arkansas Derby was a massive step up. If he continues on he will be formidable.
Gun Runner is going against my creed of disregarding the Louisiana horses but he has a lot of upside. He has won on the Churchill surface before, did well when it was wet too, and has been sensational down at Fair Grounds. The Louisiana form holds well for the fillies, but for some reason hasn’t been as great with the colts. Last Derby winner to come out of Louisiana was Funny Cide who was also the last Derby winner to come out of the Wood Memorial! He was second in both.
Speaking of the Wood Memorial, Outwork is looking just super and his only loss is to that pansy Destin. Both are trained by Todd who has a much smaller squad than he has in the past. Outwork to me is the much better horse, especially with Destin’s weird layoff. Tampa form has done well up at Churchill, and while Destin was definitely the best that day Outwork looked great in second and went on to a very gritty win in the Wood. Plus he’s owned by Mike Repole who is just great.
Cherry Wine will be an excellent Preakness horse.
California has a really interesting group with my bae Exaggerator who I’ve loved since accidentally seeing his Saratoga Special, Mor Spirit and Danzing Candy. Mor Spirit lacks something that I can’t totally put my finger on, meanwhile Danzing Candy will probably set a nice pace but who knows if he can get up there in time starting from 20. Good news though is that if he has a bad break he has some wiggle room with no one on his outside. Regardless, Exaggerator rocks and if it comes up wet he will rock even more. We should all crack open an ICE to celebrate if he wins.
I still maintain Mohaymen is a poser. Everyone is all high about how good he looks but for $2,000,000 he better look good. Whatever, he’ll do well at Gulfstream down the road in the Donn or something.
Shagaf is my pick to finish last.
Two horses I just can’t figure out are Majesto and Whitmore. Majesto is just weird as hell, it took him five tries to break his maiden then he had a real nice run in the Florida Derby. It was probably a fluke and he’ll likely never win a graded stakes again in his life, but he might still finish up there. Whitmore on the other hand is always so close and always does so well but can just never get it done. Cupid totally turned him away in the Rebel but he still had a fantastic run in there. Just can’t figure these two out. Another horse I just don’t get the hype is My Man Sam, sure he’s alright and can perform well sometimes but he isn’t really all that good.
Brody’s Cause just seems slow. Like Carpe Diem he is very good at Keeneland but doesn’t do well anywhere else. But hey, at least he’s won at Churchill before so that’s a bonus.
End of the day though, I really think Nyquist is just head and shoulders the best horse in the race. Only way he loses is a bad trip. He’s already got over $3mil in the bank, is the champion and has has never lost. Thing is though, bad trips happen this is the Kentucky Derby we’re talking about. He’s starting from a good spot, he has a versatile running style, and ya know he is just the best horse in the race. There is the question of his pedigree if he cant get the distance and frankly I just think that’s dumb. Uncle Mo kiddos haven’t even run that far yet so who knows if they’re good or not. It raises the question if they can do it, but it shouldn’t cause any doubt. Pretty sure Tonalist was only the second Tapit kid to win at 10f or over after Careless Jewel and now they’re doing it all over the place. Pedigree is overrated.
No matter what, the Kentucky Derby is my favorite race and this is my favorite week of the year. Only time there’s a better week is leading into the Belmont with a Triple Crown on the line. But the Derby is something else and may always be my true love.
Here is my predicted finishing order:
My Man Sam
Naturally, Oscar Nominated will scratch but likely not in time for Laoban to get in in typical Ramsey fashion. Hoping for the best here regardless.
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!