Five beaten Kentucky Derby longshots that went on to be stars

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

April 30th, 2016

Your longshot entry in the Kentucky Derby (G1) has just finished up the track, perhaps in a better-than-expected effort but more likely a highly disappointing one. Are there brighter days ahead and will he ever prove himself a top-class performer?

The odds are still somewhat stacked against your typical Derby also-ran, but there have been instances when an unheralded longshot failed to win on the first Saturday in May but went on to have a distinguished career.

Here are five of the more prominent Thoroughbreds in the past century to have shaken off their Kentucky Derby blues and carved out their own place in racing history.

Summer Bird (2009)

A late-developing chestnut whose career was only two months and four races old when he finished sixth, beaten 13 lengths, to Mine That Bird at odds of 43-1, Summer Bird ultimately wound up being the best colt of his generation.

A son of 2004 Belmont (G1) winner Birdstone, he replicated the feat of his father when upsetting the 2009 Belmont at odds of 11-1. A distant second to the brilliant filly Rachel Alexandra in the Haskell Invitational (G1), he then went on to clinch divisional honors with back-to-back wins in the Travers (G1) and Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1).

His brief career came to a close with a solid fourth to Zenyatta in the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) at Santa Anita, his only attempt on a synthetic surface.

Groovy (1986)

After clinging to third in the nine-furlong Wood Memorial (G1), connections of this Texas-bred speedster forged ahead to Churchill Downs. Still convinced of his distance limitations, however, Derby bettors sent him away at 57-1 and he wilted to last in a field of 16 after zipping the opening half-mile in :45 1/5.

Following another two-turn flop in the Preakness (G1), Groovy was never tried beyond one turn again but instead became one of the most heralded sprinters of his era. Though he failed to win the Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1) twice as the favorite, he flashed his brilliant speed in major stakes from coast to coast, earning monster speed figures and an Eclipse Award as champion sprinter in 1987.

Forego (1973)

Perhaps the most decorated of any Derby also-ran ever, Forego was a 28-1 outsider when 11 lengths fourth to Secretariat, who was a Horse of the Year at two while Forego's career didn't even begin until January of his three-year-old season.

After Big Red's retirement, Forego dominated the middle half of the 1970s with three consecutive Horse of the Year titles, four older male championships, and also one as champion sprinter. One of the great weight carriers of all time, he is considered among the four "Great Geldings" of the 20th century alongside Exterminator, Kelso, and John Henry.

Roman Brother (1964)

Although winner of the Champagne at two, his form had tailed off enough by Kentucky Derby time that he was dismissed at 30-1. However, the little gelding did quite well to finish fourth, beaten 3 1/2 lengths by Northern Dancer in a record-setting Derby run in 2:00.

Later winning the Jersey Derby, American Derby, New Hampshire Sweepstakes, and Discovery H. at three, Roman Brother hit peak form late in his four-year-old season. In October 1965, he won the Woodward, Manhattan H. and Jockey Club Gold Cup by a combined 23 lengths, enough to earn a Horse of the Year title from DRF voters thus ending Kelso's five-year reign at the top.

Sun Beau (1928)

Eleventh of 22 runners in the 1928 Derby at odds of 38-1, the Virginia-bred Sun Beau was retroactively acknowledged by racing historians as the champion older horse of 1929-31. In the early years of the Depression, the bay became a fan favorite winning lucrative stakes in the major racing centers of New York, Kentucky, Maryland, and Chicago, including three consecutive renewals of the Hawthorne Gold Cup.

Sun Beau also successfully took his show on the road to Canada and Mexico, capturing stakes at Old Woodbine in Toronto and Caliente in Tijuana. He was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1996.

(Coglianese Photography)