COMMENTARY The Kentucky Derby is one of the most anticipated horse races in the country. As the first leg of the Triple Crown, the winner of the Kentucky Derby has a chance to make history and become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. Lose in the Kentucky Derby and fans and the racing community must wait at least another year to claim a Triple Crown winner. The Kentucky Derby is the first step to achieving the feat, and therefore the most anticipated.
This Saturday, May 4 is the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby. In that time, we have seen favorites and underdogs alike wear the Garland of Roses. Let's take a look at some memorable moments in Derby history:
2009: Mine That Bird
In 2009 Mine That Bird entered the starting gate at 50-1 odds. Ridden by Calvin Borel on a sloppy track due to overnight rain, the gelding got off to a poor start. As the field barreled down the backstretch Mine That Bird was eight lengths back and a win looked impossible. Then Calvin Borel, using the same technique he used to win in 2007 on Street Sense, made the country believe. Calvin Borel skimmed the rail and by the turn for home Mine That Bird was in prime contention. He crossed the finish line six lengths ahead of the field.
The story behind Mine That Bird makes this race even more fascinating. He was purchased for just $9,500 as a yearling. When he qualified for the Derby, his trainer, Chip Wooley, (with a broken leg to boot) loaded him up in a pickup truck and drove 1,200 miles from New Mexico to Kentucky for the race. It was worth the trouble. Mine That Bird became just the second gelding to win the Kentucky Derby since 1929, and became the second-biggest upset winner behind Donerail in 1913 (91-1 odds).
2008: Big Brown and Eight Belles
In the 134th running of the Kentucky Derby Big Brown made history becoming the first horse since 1929 to win from the 20th starting gate. He was the 2-1 favorite and won the race by four and three quarter lengths with a time of 2:01.92. He made history, but the big storyline that year was the courage and heart of the filly Eight Belles.
Eight Belles would have been the betting favorite had she been entered in the Kentucky Oaks, the race for the fillies. Instead she was entered in the Kentucky Derby, a race primarily dominated by colts. She was just the first filly to run in the Derby since 1999. She hung with the boys tough earning a second place finish behind Big Brown. Then the unthinkable happened. After crossing the finish line and galloping out Eight Belles collapsed on the track. Both front fetlocks were broken and she was euthanized on the track. In a horrific fashion, Eight Belles was gone and the country mourned for the filly with the most heart.
Barbaro was undefeated heading into the Kentucky Derby in 2006. He was the second favorite with odds at 6-1. During the last turn, Barbaro charged full steam ahead to win by six and a half lengths. What made this even more impressive was his jockey, Edgar Prado, hand rode him to the finish and did not flash his whip. It was the largest margin of victory in the Kentucky Derby since 1946 when Assault, a Triple Crown winner, won by eight lengths. Barbaro displayed the makings of a Triple Crown winner and the nation believed he would be the next to achieve the milestone.
Unfortunately, Barbaro's career was cut short in the Preakness Stakes. After a premature break through the starting gate, Barbaro was reloaded and the race began. He broke cleanly this time, but shortly after his jockey pulled him up, Barbaro had shattered his right hind leg. After months of recovery, Barbaro was eventually euthanized in January of 2007.
The country would see its last Triple Crown winner in 1978 when Affirmed achieved the feat. Alydar was the favorite for the Kentucky Derby with Affirmed the second betting favorite at 9-5. There had been a long-standing history between these two colts who had already raced each other six times. Affirmed had a 4-2 edge over Alydar headed into the Derby. The race was close headed into the far turn, but Affirmed took the lead and put away Believe It and held off a late charge by Alydar to win by one and half lengths.
Affirmed went on to face Alydar again in the Preakness Stakes, winning by a neck. In the Belmont, Affirmed and Alydar dueled one again racing neck and neck away from the field. Affirmed won by a nose and became the 11th horse in history, and the last since, to win the Triple Crown. It was the third slowest start for the Belmont Stakes, yet it finished as the third fastest race in Belmont history. The country has never again experienced the enjoyment of seeing a Triple Crown winner.
1977: Seattle Slew
Back in 1977, Seattle Slew became the only horse to win the Triple Crown with an undefeated career record. He was the 1-2 favorite for the Kentucky Derby. Usually a fast starter, Seattle Slew broke slowly and swerved out of the starting gate. He was in a speed duel for the first mile of the race with For the Moment, but at the top of the stretch, Seattle Slew took the final lead and pulled away to win by one and three quarter lengths. Two weeks later, Seattle Slew would go on to win the Preakness Stakes by one and a half lengths. In his next race, the Belmont Stakes, Seattle Slew won by four lengths to become the 10th Triple Crown winner. He had a career 9-0 record through his three-year old season.
Brianna Brooks moved to Louisville, Kentucky in 2008.
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