A Look at Derby Favorites Throughout History

A Look at Derby Favorites Throughout History
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
Curlin is the morning line favorite, but does that forecast Derby success?
Derby Works Photos

With Curlin installed as the 7-2 morning line favorite for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), it's interesting to take a look at favorites throughout history to see how they performed on the first Saturday in May.

In the last 132 runnings of the Kentucky Derby, 50 favorites, or approximately 38% of favored horses have crossed the wire first. Of the others, 28 ran second, 10 were third, and 44 unplaced. A notable fact is that Aristides, who became the very first Derby winner in 1875, was a favorite. 

If a favored horse were to win this year's Run for the Roses, it would be a reasonable bet to think that contender might also take the Triple Crown, as seven of 11 horses to accomplish that feat were favorites in their respective Derby fields. Those favorites were: Gallant Fox (1930), War Admiral (1937), Whirlaway (1941), Count Fleet (1943), Citation (1948), Secretariat (1973), and Seattle Slew (1977).

Recent history reveals, however, that only two favored runners, Fusaichi Pegasus   (2000) and Smarty Jones   (2004), have posted victories in the Derby in the last 27 years.

The biggest gap of favorites failing to find the winner's circle began after Spectacular Bid's feat in 1979 and continued until Fusaichi Pegasus lived up to his hype in 2000 following a dry spell of 21 years.

The favorites in the years following Fusaichi Pegasus' victory include Harlan's Holiday (2002), Bellamy Road (2005), and Sweetnorthernsaint (2006), who all posted disappointing seventh-place finishes on Derby day.

Though Point Given   checked in fifth in 2001, the son of Thunder Gulch quickly redeemed himself in taking the next two legs of that year's Triple Crown. Empire Maker, who ran a respectable second in the 2003 Derby, also more than made up for his narrow loss by capturing the Triple Crown's third jewel, the Belmont Stakes (gr. I), and denied Funny Cide the Triple Crown.

Regarding this year's top choices, unbeaten Curlin, winner of the $1 million Arkansas Derby (gr. II) April 14, emerged as a strong 7-2 morning line favorite in a list compiled by Mike Battaglia. The colt is currently favored over such accomplished rivals as 2006 2-year-old champion Street Sense and Wood Memorial (gr. I) winner Nobiz Like Shobiz.

A son of Smart Strike  , Curlin is owned by a partnership that includes Stonestreet Farm, Padua Stable, George Bolton, and Midnight Cry Stables. He became the top choice when betting was concluded in the April 12-15 Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool 3.

The colt, who did not race as a juvenile, has won his three lifetime races by a combined margin of 28 1/2 lengths. If he wins on the first Saturday in May, he will have overcome a significant hurdle, as last horse to accomplish the task without the benefit of racing at 2 was Apollo in 1882.

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