Kentucky Derby Winners Who Were also Successful on the Turf

Jan 07, 2020 John Mucciolo/

What is the first thing that comes to mind when I mention the names of Secretariat, Northern Dancer, Barbaro, Big Brown, California Chrome, and Animal Kingdom? The obvious answer is that they are all winners of the Kentucky Derby (G1), which is certainly true. 

But there have been multiple Kentucky Derby winners who have displayed class and versatility when they moved their tack to the turf as well. And there are others, such as American Pharaoh, for example, that could have prospered on the lawn if they ever got the chance to prove it. 

Below are my top six Kentucky Derby winners that were also top performers on the grass:


This 1973 Triple Crown legend is recognized as one of the greatest racehorses in the history of our sport. The son of Bold Ruler was capable of anything on the track, including succeeding on the green. 

Just nine days after contesting the 1973 Woodward (G1), the incomparable colt tried his hand on the turf for the first time in the Man o' War (G1). He went to the lead early on before driving home a facile five-length winner in course-record time. 

Secretariat made his final start against older foes in the Canadian International (G2) over 1 5/8 miles on the Woodbine turf, and he capped his unrivaled career with a resounding, 6 1/2-length waltz for trainer Lucien Laurin. 

Northern Dancer

The 1964 Kentucky Derby and Preakness hero is among the most influential Thoroughbreds in modern racing, for his efforts both on the track and in the breeding shed. The son of Nearctic is a three-time champion, a member of the Hall of Fame in both the United States and Canada, and he has also been a leading sire in the U.S., England, and Ireland. 

As a juvenile, Northern Dancer showed his class on all surfaces. The colt was a winner in the Summer S. over the Fort Erie lawn, which was followed by a close second in the Cup and Saucer S. on the Woodbine green. 


In 2006, Barbaro moved his mark to a perfect 6-for-6 following a 6 1/2-length romp in the Run for the Roses. The Michael Matz trainee seemed destined to be regarded as one of the top horses ever to race on U.S. soil, but he suffered a heart-breaking injury at Pimlico two weeks later. 

Barbaro began his career on the turf, rolling home to a trio of fine tallies on the green including the Tropical Park Derby (G3) in his sophomore debut. It is impossible to determine if he was better on the dirt or turf, but he was a superstar nonetheless who is still missed by his legion of fans. 

Animal Kingdom

The Graham Motion charge rolled home a superior winner of the 2011 Kentucky Derby at big odds, and he went on to prove that he was far from a fluke that day at Churchill Downs. The chestnut was the epitome of an all-surface horse, showing the highest class on dirt, turf, and all-weather ovals. 

Animal Kingdom was first or second in four of his five tries on the weeds, including runner-up finishes in both the 2012 Breeders' Cup Mile (G1) and 2013 Gulfstream Park Turf H. (G1). 

California Chrome

This dual classic winner of 2014 raced on the turf just one time, but it left me wondering what could have been if he had more opportunities on the grass. The California-bred son of Lucky Pulpit made his debut on the lawn in the 2014 Hollywood Derby (G1), and all he did was finish an easy two-length winner at Del Mar in his lone grass appearance. 

Big Brown

The grandson of Danzig won both the Derby and Preakness (G1) in 2008, but it is possible that he was just as good on the green. The colt debuted at  Saratoga in his juvenile campaign and turned heads with a sensational 11 1/4-length tour-de-force going 1 1/16 miles. 

A four-time graded stakes winner and champion, Big Brown concluded his career with a front-running victory in the Monmouth S. on the turf in for trainer Rick Dutrow.

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