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Five unbreakable Kentucky Derby records

Profile Picture: Josh Powell

April 21st, 2021

The Kentucky Derby (G1) has a habit providing thrilling finishes, incredible stories, and fantastic performances.

As the world gears up for those incredible 120 seconds at Churchill Downs, let's examine five Kentucky Derby records that may never be broken.

Kentucky Derby final time: 1:59.40 (Secretariat, 1973)

The Run for the Roses is known as the most exciting two minutes in sports — but only two horses have ever dipped under the two-minute mark. Twenty years ago, Monarchos won the 2001 Derby in a time of 1:59.97, but even that unbelievable run was no match for Secretariat.

The iconic superstar won the Triple Crown in 1973 and it began with a scintillating Kentucky Derby win. From last place, Secretariat passed the entire field to beat Sham by 2 1/2 lengths in a time of 1:59.40, which is also the track record for any 1 1/4-mile race at Churchill Downs.

Later on in the year, he won the Preakness (G1) and then set another couple of records in the Belmont (G1). His winning time of 2:24 at Belmont Park is still the fastest 1 1/2 miles on dirt, and his 31-length win is still the widest margin of victory in the race.

Since the aforementioned Monarchos in 2001, the only horse to come close to his Derby record was the 2020 winner, Authentic, who won in 2:00.61 — still more than a second slower than Secretariat.

Kentucky Derby winning margin: eight lengths (Old Rosebud, 1914; Johnstown, 1939; Whirlaway, 1941; Assault, 1943)

It’s been 65 years since a horse won the Derby by eight lengths, and in one of the most competitive and prestigious races in the world, it is increasingly unlikely we will get a runaway winner anytime soon.

Even if you combine the winning distances of the last four Derby renewals, you only get to 8 1/4 lengths.

In the last decade, Always Dreaming in 2017 and Animal Kingdom in 2011 both won the Derby by 2 3/4 lengths, and that is the widest winning margin in that time. The average winning margin in the last 10 years is less than two lengths.

The greatest Kentucky Derby upset: 91-1 (Donerail, 1913)

Donerail was a huge outsider in the 1913 Kentucky Derby, but that didn’t stop him from winning at 91-1. He also set a course record at 2:04.80.

The only winning horse to have odds anywhere near Donerail was Country House in 2019, when he won at 65-1. Even that race was laced with controversy, as 9-2 Maximum Security crossed the line first, but after a 22-minute review by the stewards was disqualified to 17th for interference.

Donerail’s record has stood for more than 100 years, though, and it’s unlikely the betting public will be caught by that kind of surprise again.

Youngest jockey to win the Kentucky Derby: Alonzo Clayton (15 years old, 1892)

At 15 years old, all I wanted to do was hang out in the park with my mates and try smoking cigarettes without my mum finding out. Alonzo Clayton was already a professional jockey by age 14, and a year later, he won one of the biggest races in the world! Azra was the horse who carried Clayton to a nose victory over Huron.

Clayton was only a few months younger than James Perkins, who was also 15 when he rode Almato victory in the Derby three years later. Bill Boland was just 16 and still an apprentice when he rode Middleground to victory in the Derby in 1950, while Steve Cauthen was 18 when he won the 1978 Derby on Affirmed.

It’s a different game now, and the record for youngest jockey to win the Derby will never be broken.

Winning three of your first four tries at the Kentucky Derby as a jockey: Calvin Borel (2007, 2009, and 2010)

Calvin Borel is a Churchill Downs legend. The rider has more than 5,000 winning rides in his career and is just one of two jockeys with more than 1,000 wins under the Twin Spires.

The Hall of Famer started his Derby career with a bang, when he won the 2007 Kentucky Derby, his first ride in the race. He was aboard 9-2 favorite Street Sense and won by 2 1/4 lengths, ahead of Hard Spun.

In 2009, he put in one of the all-time great Derby performances. Sitting last on Mine That Bird until the final turn, Borel moved past the entire field in the final furlong. He flew home to win by 6 3/4 lengths at odds of 50-1. He was the largest-odds winner in more than 85 years and won by the widest margin for more than 60 years.

Twelve months later, Borel guided Super Saver out of gate 4. He got to the rail and charged to victory, despite a late surge from Ice Box, to win by 2 1/2 lengths.

Eddie Arcaro and Bill Hartack lead the way in Derby wins, with five each, but Borel’s record of winning three of his first four looks unlikely to ever be beaten.

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