Plenty of horses have arrived at Churchill Downs on the First Saturday in May with huge reputations. But in competitive fields, they can be beaten. Below are the five shortest-priced favorites who came up short in the Kentucky Derby.
A very good 2-year-old, Olympia looked a world-beater as an early 3-year-old. He won the San Felipe Stakes, Flamingo Stakes, Wood Memorial, and Derby Trial leading into the Run for the Roses – as well as a match-race in January against the champion Quarter Horse Stella Moore over a quarter mile. He headed to the front as usual in the Derby, but didn’t have the stamina and finished sixth behind Ponder. Olympia turned to sprinting successfully as a 4-year-old, and later was in the top 10 sires eight times, including a runner-up finish in 1962. He was champion broodmare sire in 1974.
1936: Brevity, 0.80-1:
A half-brother to the influential broodmare Dustwhirl, Brevity was taking all before him in early 1936. He was made a hot favorite after setting a world record when winning the Florida Derby. But in one of the roughest starts to a Derby – in which subsequent Horse of the Year Granville lost his rider – Brevity was knocked to his knees and forced back in the field. Even so, he came with a very strong finish down the stretch, but just failed to catch Bold Venture, who’d never won a stakes race going into the Derby. Brevity’s family got its revenge five years later, when Dustwhirl’s Blenheim II colt Whirlaway won not only the Derby, but the Triple Crown.
1953: Native Dancer/Social Outcast, 0.70-1:
This coupling was at short odds due to the great expectation around the Gray Ghost, Native Dancer. He’d been named Horse of the Year after winning all nine of his starts as a 2-year-old, and wins in the Gotham Mile and Wood Memorial ensured the short odds in the Derby. But after a very rough race and a widely-criticized ride from Eric Guerin, he couldn’t catch the front-running Dark Star, going down by an ever-narrowing head. Native Dancer didn’t lose again in eight starts, winning the Preakness and Belmont, and has been a highly influential sire.
1976: Honest Pleasure, 0.40-1:
The front-running Honest Pleasure was on a nine-race winning streak, having been the champion 2-year-old and then winning the Flamingo Stakes, Florida Derby, and Blue Grass Stakes easily. But on Derby day he came up against Bold Forbes, who began his career in Puerto Rico before heading to the U.S. and winning three Derby lead-ups, including the Wood Memorial. Bold Forbes made the front, with Honest Pleasure settling a few lengths back in second, and try as he might, he couldn’t get past Bold Forbes in the stretch, going down by half a length. The pair then had a speed duel in the Preakness and were both beaten. Honest Pleasure missed the Belmont (won by Bold Forbes), but returned in summer to win the Travers Stakes in record time.
1940: Bimelech, 0.40-1:
A son of the great broodmare La Troienne, Bimelech was the shortest-priced favorite in Kentucky Derby history. It wasn’t surprising, as he arrived at Churchill Downs unbeaten. He’d been champion 2-year-old colt after winning all six of his starts, and at three he won the Blue Grass Stakes and the Derby Trial. Contesting the Derby in what was his third start in eight days, he was near the front but wide throughout, drifted on the final turn, and couldn’t hold off 36-1 shot Gallahadion. Bimelech won the Preakness and Belmont, and ended his career with 11 wins in 15 starts, and a spot in the Hall of Fame. He became a very good sire.