It is not known as the “Greatest Two Minutes in Sports” for nothing, having produced all kinds of blistering first-placed performances since it was first run in 1875.
Pace is a definite attribute in the Churchill Downs signature race and in this article, we look at the five fastest winners of all-time in the Kentucky Derby. Hold onto your hats and your Mint Juleps! Blink and you’ll miss ‘em!!
5. Decidedly, 1962
This lovely grey horse is the earliest of the top-five fastest winners of the Kentucky Derby, taking The Run for the Roses when John F. Kennedy was President of the United States.
Decidedly came from Kentucky Derby-winning stock, having been sired by Determine, who won the big race at Churchill Downs in 1954.
The combination of Argentinian trainer Horatio Luro and jockey Bill Hartack proved a winning one in the 1962 Kentucky Derby. With the application of blinkers, horse number three Decidedly stormed down the outside of the Churchill Downs track to win in a record time of 2:00.40, earning a cool $120,000.
Yet Luro and Hartack weren’t finished there and returned to tackle their own record a mere two years later...
4. Spend a Buck, 1985
Gamblers tempted to do what the name of this horse suggested by backing him were rewarded with a record-breaking Kentucky Derby win.
In an astonishing performance, Spend a Buck made all the running on a beautiful day at Churchill Downs, leading from start to finish. Coming round the final turn, the Cam Gambolati-trained horse was five lengths in front of the competition and this gap only increased as he approached the winning post.
Former laundromat owner Gambolati had Churchill Downs in a spin as his horse, ridden by Angel Cordero Jr., almost broke the two-minute mark with a winning time of 2:00.20.
Controversially, Gambolati skipped the chance of a Triple Crown shot by entering and winning the Jersey Derby instead. Spend a Buck picked up a $2.6million bonus for this feat, a move which saw the Triple Crown races introduce a similar bonus of their own to encourage participation.
3. Northern Dancer, 1964
This Canadian supreme sire is known for his excellent bloodline, but made waves in the 1964 Kentucky Derby by winning in a clean 2:00.00.
Just two years after their clock-busting Kentucky Derby win with Decidedly, trainer Horatio Luro and jockey Bill Hartack were back at Churchill Downs with speedster Northern Dancer, who didn’t disappoint.
In a thrilling finish, the short horse with the big heart held off the rapid Hill Rise by a neck with the clock red hot and reading two minutes flat.
Northern Dancer’s Kentucky Derby record lasted for nearly a decade, being beaten by the great Secretariat in 1973.
By the time Northern Dancer’s Kentucky Derby record was broken, the horse was well on the way to being one of the top sires of the 20th century, having become father to the superb Nijinsky, who had won the English Triple Crown in 1970.
2. Monarchos, 2001
It was apt that a horse named Monarchos put in a regal performance in winning the 2001 Kentucky Derby by breaking the two-minute mark.
There had been signposts to Monarchos’ Kentucky Derby success beforehand, with the horse winning the Florida Derby two months earlier in scintillating fashion. After the race, jockey Jorge Chavez told the New York Times: “When I asked him, he just exploded”.
Monarchos showed true grit in the Kentucky Derby in May 2001, advancing from 13th position approaching the final turn at Churchill Downs to be delivered in smooth fashion to first place by Chavez, prevailing in a time of 1:59.97.
The pacy grey’s career was short but sweet, running just 10 times, but few will forget his 2001 Kentucky Derby-winning ride where Monarchos saw off a strong field including the Triple Crown-chasing Point Given.
1. Secretariat, 1973
This truly great American horse barely broke sweat in his various racing achievements, but when he did, he perspired class.
Secretariat smashed the Kentucky Derby record in 1973 and such was his speed and talent that his record of 1:59.40 still stands today.
There were doubts as to Secretariat’s ability to win the Kentucky Derby after finishing third in the Wood Memorial Stakes in the buildup to the big one at Churchill Downs. Yet Secretariat, under jockey Ron Turcotte, produced a masterclass of patient riding in front of a record crowd of 134,476 to take Kentucky Derby glory.
Turcotte, knowing Secretariat’s true ability, was happy to settle his mount at the back of the field. Then, in an astounding show of Secretariat’s turn of foot, Turcotte began to produce Secretariat to run each quarter mile of the Kentucky Derby faster than the one that preceded it.
All eyes were on rival Sham, a decent horse in his own right, but Secretariat was moving with such poise and finesse that he was never going to be denied, winning The Run for the Roses before the clock had even ticked over to two minutes.
Secretariat went on to win the American Triple Crown with victories in the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes, all in record times. However it is the sub-two minute Kentucky Derby win which is considered to be the pinnacle of Secretariat’s career as it saw him become a US sensation and cemented his status as one of the best American racehorses of all-time.