The Kentucky Derby is often where the best North American horses prove their greatness. But because it’s where the best of the best meet, some of the greatest get beaten.
5) Bold Ruler: After winning seven races as a juvenile, Bold Ruler arrived at the 1957 Kentucky Derby as the favorite, having won the Flamingo Stakes and the Wood Memorial. He couldn’t get any closer than fourth behind Iron Liege, but he returned to win the Preakness Stakes, the Jerome Handicap and the Vosburgh Handicap, before beating Belmont Stakes winner Gallant Man in the Trenton Handicap to secure Horse of the Year. He won five from seven aged four, carrying up to 136 pounds, and became a breed-shaping sire.
"...born on the same day as Bold Ruler at the same farm, Claiborne."
4) Round Table: Bold Ruler wasn’t the only great champion beaten in the 1957 Kentucky Derby, one of the greatest in history. One place ahead of him was Blue Grass Stakes winner Round Table – born on the same day as Bold Ruler at the same farm, Claiborne. Unable to catch Iron Liege and Gallant Man in the Derby, Round Table then won 11 in a row before finishing third to Bold Ruler in the Trenton Handicap. The next year he won Horse of the Year, Leading Older Male and Champion Turf Horse, and he secured his third Turf Horse award in 1959. Considered one of the greatest turf horses in U.S. history, Round Table was also an influential sire.
3) Damascus: A winner of three from four as a juvenile, Damascus started favorite for the 1967 Kentucky Derby after winning the Bayshore Stakes and the Wood Memorial, but he got very nervous in the Churchill Downs paddock and finished third behind 30-1 winner Proud Clarion. He then won the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, the Travers by 22 lengths. He went on to win the 1967 Horse of the Year after setting a single-season earnings record of $817,000, and between 1967 and 1968 he won two of his four races against Dr. Fager, though in both his connections used a “rabbit” to tire his free-running rival. Damascus became a successful sire.
2) Native Dancer: The first equine star of the television age, Native Dancer was a hot favorite when he arrived at the 1953 Kentucky Derby. He’d won all nine of his juvenile starts, and won the Gotham Stakes and Wood Memorial in the lead-up. But he was bumped twice in the running and got clear a little late, just failing to catch the pace-setting Dark Star. Native Dancer wasn’t beaten again, winning the Preakness, Belmont, and Travers Stakes, and returning for three more victories as a 4-year-old. He became sire of outstanding stallion Raise a Native and of the dam of Northern Dancer.
"As Secretariat was beginning his march to the Triple Crown in the 1973 Kentucky Derby, an inexperienced gelding by Forli battled on gamely to finish fourth."
1) Forego: As Secretariat was beginning his march to the Triple Crown in the 1973 Kentucky Derby, an inexperienced gelding by Forli battled on gamely to finish fourth. Nobody would have picked it then, but Forego became one of North America’s greats. He continued improving and started to demonstrate his greatness in 1974, winning top races ranging from seven furlongs to two miles. The wins kept coming in the next few years – he won Champion Older Male every year from 1974 to 1977, Horse of the Year 1974-1976, and Champion Sprinter in 1974. His victories came despite huge weights – he won 13 races carrying 130 pounds or more – and problematic legs. He retired as an 8-year-old, his reputation secure.