“This Derby is developing so good that it almost frightens me.”

Equidistant between a nuclear confrontation that had been successfully averted and a national tragedy that would kickstart years of domestic turbulence, the spring of 1963 was a veritable sweet spot in time.

Befitting that brief window of relative calm, glorious sunshine and warmth hovered over a then-record crowd at Churchill Downs for a Kentucky Derby which, on the day at least, appeared a vintage renewal.

(Photo by Churchill Downs / Kentucky Derby)

Although that Derby class ultimately did not include a Hall of Fame-worthy participant, few Runs for the Roses of that era looked so tantalizing or were as highly anticipated beforehand.

Wathen Knebelkamp, who guided Churchill Downs through the 1960s as track president, boasted to the Louisville Courier-Journal, “This Derby is developing so good that it almost frightens me.”

The numbers, or lack thereof, told the tale. Only nine horses would face the Derby starter, the second smallest field of the decade. However, the depth was remarkable.

The 1963 Kentucky Derby Cast

The cast included two undefeated colts. From California was the colorfully marked and aptly named Candy Spots, the strong favorite in the betting. The other was No Robbery, the Eastern establishment’s preference representing the patrician Greentree Stable.

Rounding out the “big three” was reigning juvenile champion Never Bend, who had enhanced his record by winning all four of his pre-Derby starts at three by a combined margin of 28 lengths.

And then there was Chateaugay, the upstart blueblood who would beat them all. 

(Photo by Churchill Downs / Kentucky Derby)

With Candy Spots, so named due to the unusual white markings prevalent on his chestnut coat, owner Rex Ellsworth and trainer Mesh Tenney attempted to take down American racing’s most prestigious prize for a second time. The “cowboy” duo had claimed the roses in 1955 with Swaps, who in the process toppled beloved Eastern favorite Nashua.

Indeed, Ellsworth and Swaps would have an outsized influence on the 1963 Derby. Candy Spots was out of a mare by *Khaled, a high-class English performer whom Ellsworth had imported to stand in California. *Khaled was the sire of Swaps, who in turn was represented in the 1963 Derby by No Robbery and Chateaugay.

Candy Spots won all three starts at two, including the Arlington-Washington Futurity, then the world’s richest race. He would pick up where he left off in early 1963 by winning three more races, including the Santa Anita Derby and the Florida Derby.

The mercurial No Robbery raced for Greentree, which had won the Derby in 1931 with Twenty Grand and in 1942 with Shut Out. The latter was trained by John Gaver, who had No Robbery ready to win his first five starts, including three at Aqueduct in April. One was a 10-length allowance romp in which No Robbery ran one mile in 1:34, narrowly missing the track record.

A week later, No Robbery was an odds-on favorite for the Wood Memorial. His winning margin was a decisive 2 1/2 lengths, but would have been larger if he had not drifted out into the middle of the track through the stretch.

From the last crop of breed-changing stallion *Nasrullah, Never Bend was trained by Woody Stephens and owned by Capt. Harry F. Guggenheim’s Cain Hoy Stable, which had tasted Derby success in 1953 when Dark Star handed the legendary Native Dancer his only career loss.

Beaten a half-length by Candy Spots in the Arlington-Washington Futurity, Never Bend’s subsequent victories in the Futurity, Cowdin, and Champagne Stakes in New York secured championship honors and then-record earnings for a two-year-old.

Although he won the Flamingo Stakes at Hialeah by five lengths, Never Bend’s Derby preparation occurred primarily in allowances, including the seven-furlong Stepping Stone at Churchill Downs eight days before the Derby.

Coming into the Derby very much under the radar was Chateaugay. A full brother to 1962 champion older mare Primonetta, Chateaugay was trained by Jimmy Conway for owner John W. Galbreath’s Darby Dan Farm.

A Columbus, Ohio, real estate developer and owner of the 1960 World Series champion Pittsburgh Pirates, Galbreath had founded the Kentucky branch of Darby Dan in the late 1940s, when he purchased the core of Idle Hour Stock Farm from the estate of Col. Edward R. Bradley, who had won the Kentucky Derby four times in the 1920s and 1930s. 

RELATED: One Hundred Years Ago, Colonel Bradley Goes for the One-Two

(Photo by Churchill Downs / Kentucky Derby)


Chateaugay had not been an easy colt to do a whole lot with. A wind operation delayed the start of his career to mid-October, though he did manage to squeeze in five races in the span of 39 days. He won twice, but finished fourth in the Pimlico Futurity in his only stakes appearance.

A series of ailments, including a virus and skin rash, limited Chateaugay to one appearance at Hialeah during the winter. Playing catch-up by the time he shipped back to Kentucky in April, Chateaugay began to blossom. Although he would win both starts at Keeneland, including the Blue Grass Stakes nine days before the Derby, neither were authoritative victories.

Under virtually cloudless skies and with temperatures in the lower 80s, a crowd estimated at 105,000 congregated at Churchill Downs on May 4, 1963. Candy Spots was a strong favorite at 3-2, followed by No Robbery at 5-2. Never Bend was third choice at 3-1, while Chateaugay was only fifth in the wagering at 9-1.

It's not known whether John Galbreath was a superstitious man in general, but went along when a supportive member of his household staff offered him a unique accessory to don while at the races, a part of which he felt could be of use to Chateaugay out on the track.

“Just as we were leaving our home in Columbus early this morning, our cook, Clara, hollered for me to come back,” Galbreath explained. “She gave me this necklace of (chicken) wishbones to wear during the Derby. Before the race I yanked off one of the bones and put it under Chateaugay’s bridle.”

As expected, the pace was fast.

Never Bend shot out to an early lead, with No Robbery in close pursuit. Candy Spots was in the catbird seat, tracking some three to four lengths behind in third, while Chateaugay was reserved back in sixth place. The opening quarter was run in :23, the half-mile in :46 2/5, and six furlongs was clicked off in 1:10.

Candy Spots, who raced three deep down the backside, was later tucked in behind Never Bend and No Robbery around the far turn by jockey Bill Shoemaker, who would soon regret the move. Not only did Candy Spots eventually have to check briefly, he found find himself without running room along the rail entering the stretch. And in yielding the outside position, he gave Chateaugay an opening to attack.

Ten lengths behind Never Bend with a half-mile ago, Chateaugay made a furious outside rally around the far turn, surged past a tiring No Robbery and grabbed the lead from Never Bend passing the three-sixteenths pole.

A workmanlike runner, Chateaugay grinded his way through the stretch to win by 1 1/4 lengths, while Never Bend hung tough for second despite his early exertions. Candy Spots, switched outside for running room inside the eighth pole, was one-paced to the wire and missed second by a neck. No Robbery faded to fifth and emerged from the race with bucked shins.

“I’m 23 but right now I feel like I’m 12,” said winning jockey Braulio Baeza, a native of Panama who would be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1976 and is the lone surviving member of the Chateaugay team. “This is the biggest thrill of my life. I’ve wanted to win the Kentucky Derby ever since I can remember.”

Chateaugay finished second to Candy Spots in the Preakness before reversing that result in the Belmont Stakes, held that year at Aqueduct. Chateaugay was named champion three-year-old colt, and later became a pioneer in the early 1970s as the first Derby winner to stand stud in Japan, where he lived to the age of 25.

“He was such a pleasure, we named the little lake on our (Ohio) farm Chateaugay after him,” Galbreath said years later

(Photo by Churchill Downs / Kentucky Derby)