The Kentucky Derby is one of the most famous horse races anywhere around the globe.
When competitors head to Churchill Downs on the first Saturday of May, they know they’ll witness a little slice of horse racing history every time. In 2021, 12-1 shot Medina Spirit won the race – it was John Velazquez’s fourth win as jockey and trainer Bob Baffert’s third triumph in four years. But will they complete a triple victory in the 2022 Kentucky Derby?
If they do, they’ll only strengthen their place at the pinnacle of US horse racing, but it will doubtless be on another ride. No horse has ever won back-to-back derbies, so as yet haven’t written that little slice of history. Medina might just be that horse, but it is surely unlikely. However, at a time of 2:01.02, his time was the 10th fastest in Kentucky Derby history, which does leave him with a spot in the record books.
It is some way short of the fastest, with only two horses ever getting round in under two minutes. Here are the fastest ever rides at Churchill Downs, counting down from three to one.
Northern Dancer – 1964
Northern Dancer was the second favorite in 1964, behind Hill Rise, and was bidding to become the first Canadian-bred horse to win the Derby. That made headlines across Canada, not only for his history but also for the run. Having managed to stay free of traffic and get ahead of Hill Rise, the colt then had to withstand late pressure from the favorite, but he held out and snatched not only the win but also a new track record, which stood for nine years. It was quite a year for Canada’s most famous racehorse. CBC explains how he also won the Preakness Stakes and the Queen’s Plate but finished third in the Belmont Stakes to Quadrangle, just missing out on the triple crown.
Monarchos – 2001
Monarchos did set a record, running the half-mile fraction in 44.86 seconds. During the race, it seemed he might even topple the long-standing fastest time in only the second race of the new century. Most of the pre-race hype had been around Point Given, who would win the Preakness and Belmont, but Monarchos made the headlines with the only sub two-minute Derby of the modern era. It’s a record that still stands today, with only Authentic getting close in 2020 and Medina Spirit in 2021.
Secretariat – 1973
1973 was quite a year for Secretariat. He set a record at Churchill Downs, which still stands today, but it wasn’t a one-off. A Bwin Sports graphic on the best horse races ever reveals that he also set a record at Belmont, which still stands today. At Belmont, he finished 31 lengths ahead of anyone else, a truly amazing run.
He also set an as-yet unbroken record at the Preakness Stakes, but it is the Churchill Downs run that we are focusing on. He ran the only sub two-minute race of the 20th century and still only the second ever.
He became the first triple crown winner since 1948, although plenty have since claimed that honor. Still, Secretariat is the horse to beat in terms of time, almost half a century after recording his amazing time.