The Most Famous Kentucky Derby Horses in History

Who's ready for this year's Run for the Roses?

Photo: Patrick Smith / Getty Images

The Kentucky Derby is rich in tradition and history. From statement hats to mint juleps and everything in between, Southerners look forward to the race all year long. The Derby, beginning in 1875, started when the Louisville Jockey Club sponsored the first race. It's the longest-running sporting event in the country, and the equine participants are as storied as the race itself. We have rounded up the most famous horses that have won the Run for the Roses, so take a walk down Derby Lane with us. Who remembers these Kentucky Derby horses? How about Secretariat?


This horse won the Derby in 1913, overcoming a long shot. The longest odds of any winner, at 91-1. Multiple horses held the lead during the race, but Donerail and Roscoe Goose, his jockey, surged ahead to take home the roses.


Probably the most recognizable name of all the horses that have participated in the Kentucky Derby, Secretariat won in 1973, which was the 99th running of the race. Secretariat is still a household name because this horse went on to win the Triple Crown and still holds the Derby record, completing the course in 1:59:40. Secretariat still has the stakes records for all three Triple Crown races.

Seattle Slew

Seattle Slew won the Derby in 1977 but didn't stop there. This horse went on to win the Triple Crown and was the 10th horse to do so. At the time, Seattle Slew became the only undefeated Triple Crown winner. This horse's undefeated career has gone down in racing history as one of the most impressive.


This horse was the 12th winner of the Triple Crown and took home the title in 1978. Affirmed is as famous for the Triple Crown win as he is for a notorious, neck-and-neck rivalry with Alydar, a horse Affirmed raced ten times. After Affirmed, there was a 37-year wait for the next Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah, in 2015. That gap set a record. Affirmed set another record when he won the year after Seattle Slew took home the prize because it marked the first time winning the Triple Crown back-to-back years.

Spectacular Bid

This horse was a champion throughout its 1978 two-year-old season and won the 1979 Kentucky Derby, a race for three-year-old horses. Spectacular Bid's jockey, Ronnie Franklin, won the race in his Kentucky Derby debut.

Genuine Risk

Genuine Risk took the roses in 1980 and is one of only three fillies to win the Kentucky Derby. The others were Regret in 1915 and Winning Colors in 1988.


In 2001, Monarchos won the Kentucky Derby. He was only the second horse, after Secretariat, to run the Derby in under 2 minutes.

Smarty Jones

Smarty Jones won the Kentucky Derby in 2004 (as well as the Preakness Stakes). This horse ended a decades-long wait when he became the first undefeated horse to win the Derby since Seattle Slew's 1977 win. The jockey, Stewart Elliott, became the first to win a Kentucky Derby debut since Ronnie Franklin won with Spectacular Bid in the 1979 Derby.

California Chrome

While California Chrome didn't win the Triple Crown, this horse did win the 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. California Chrome was the fourth California-bred horse to win the Derby. The winning time was considered slow for a Derby win, but California Chrome's popularity was inarguable, which commanded the nickname the "People's Horse."

American Pharoah

American Pharoah is the second most recent Triple Crown winner, taking home the first place in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes in 2015. In the Derby, American Pharoah's closing quarter-mile time was faster than Secretariat's. At 24.32, that's an impressive feat.


Nyquist is the second Derby winner to win the race as an undefeated two-year-old season champion. The 2016 Kentucky Derby, which Nyquist won by 1¼ lengths, was the horse's last win. Nyquist is a 5th generation descendant of Secretariat.

Rich Strike

After Donerail's win in 1913, Rich Strike finished a nail-biting Kentucky Derby race with the second-biggest longshot at 80-1 odds. Rich Strike came from behind in the final turn to be the first to cross the finish line.

Will you be tuning in to the Kentucky Derby this year? What are your most memorable Derby runs? (Besides Secretariat, that is.)

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