History records that Man o’ War won the 1920 Belmont Stakes by 20 lengths and the Lawrence Realization the same year by 100 lengths, but neither were particularly contentious affairs as the great steed scared off all but one opponent in each race.
The gold standard of modern Thoroughbred domination, in major racing at least, belongs to the other “Big Red,” Secretariat, who waltzed home the winner of the 1973 Belmont Stakes and the Triple Crown by 31 lengths.
Victories of this magnitude are rare, but fans in attendance at Churchill Downs on November 18 were treated to an emphatic display of authority in the day’s second race, a $16,000 conditioned claimer over 1 1/16 miles. Big Exchange, the 4-5 favorite in the field of six, walloped his competitors by 24 3/4 lengths.
This was the fourth time in the last 20 years that a horse had won a race at Churchill Downs by 20 lengths or more, and Big Exchange’s margin of victory tied for the largest at the Louisville, Kentucky, track since 1976, the furthest back complete records are available.
On May 7, 1998, days after Real Quiet posted a victory in the Kentucky Derby (G1), Outer Banks skipped over the Churchill slop to win a six-furlong, $17,500 maiden claimer by the same 24 3/4-length margin at odds of 1-2. Appropriately enough, Outer Banks’ score was one of 2,482 achieved at the track by Churchill’s all-time winningest rider, Pat Day.
Nearly 13 years and three weeks later, on May 27, 2011, Capt. Bullet Bob had his way against three opponents in a seven-furlong starter allowance, registering a 21 1/4-length score under Julien Leparoux, a winner of more than 800 races under the Twin Spires. Like Outer Banks, Capt. Bullet Bob started at odds of 1-2.
Another odds-on favorite prevailed in what is the most remembered and celebrated open-lengths victory in the history of Churchill Downs on May 1, 2009. Rachel Alexandra, the 3-10 choice in the nine-furlong Kentucky Oaks (G1), drew off in upper stretch and won in a canter by 20 1/4 lengths under Calvin Borel, the Hall of Famer who remains the leading active rider in track history.
Rachel Alexandra eventually made the Hall of Fame herself, becoming the first three-year-old filly to win the Preakness (G1) in 85 years and a Horse of the Year title in 64 years.
Whether facing a superstar in the making or one of much lesser accomplishment, there are definitely times at Churchill Downs when losing to a rival in beast mode has turned out to be a rather humbling experience.