Not all Kentucky Derby winners were great: Looking back at 12 forgettable winners (2024)

In a century and a half of Kentucky Derbies, fans have seen some of the greatest horses in the history of Thoroughbred racing win the blanket of roses. Names like Secretariat, Citation, Count Fleet and American Pharoah minted their greatness in part because of what they did on Derby Day.

At the same time, there have also been some utterly forgettable horses of little accomplishment who happened to run the race of their life on the day that mattered most. Here are the Derby’s undistinguished dozen (in descending chronological order):

Not all Kentucky Derby winners were great: Looking back at 12 forgettable winners (2)

Rich Strike, 2022

Starts: 14 First place: 2 Second place: 1 Third place: 3

Best non-Derby performance: Lost by a head in the Grade II Lukas Classic Stakes

Why he’s on the list: Rich Strike was a great story, just not a very fast horse. He was 81-1 in the Derby for a reason, but a crazy fast pace and a perfect trip up the rail under little-known jockey Sonny Leon produced one of the flukiest results in Derby history. In six subsequent races, Rich Strike only finished in the top three once.

Country House, 2019

7: 2-2-1

Best non-Derby performance: Third in the Arkansas Derby

Why he’s on the list: First of all, Country House didn’t cross the wire first at Churchill Downs. But the 30-1 longshot was awarded victory after stewards disqualified Maximum Security for bumping at the head of the stretch. Country House won just one other race in his career when he broke his maiden in January of that year. Due to a series of physical problems post-Derby, he couldn’t get back to the racetrack and was retired.

Super Saver, 2010

9: 3-2-1

Best non-Derby performance: Won the Kentucky Jockey Club stakes as a 2-year old

Why he’s on the list: Bet down on Derby Day from 15-1 to the 8-1 second choice thanks to a sloppy track that he was known to favor, it wasn’t a surprise that Super Saver won. He had also run well in his two prep races, finishing third and second, respectively. But ultimately, there’s just not much meat on the bone in his overall résumé, and his only two post-Derby racesbefore retirement were poor performances. Historically, the Derby field he beat is one of the weakest in recent memory.

Mine That Bird, 2009

18: 5-2-1

Best non-Derby performance: A very respectable second in the Preakness to the great filly Rachel Alexandra

Why he's on the list: Four of his five career wins came in Canada as a 2-year-old, which explains why he was dismissed on Derby Day as a 50-1 long shot. Though Mine That Bird showed some quality by finishing runner-up in the Preakness and third in the Belmont, he never came close to winning another race. He ran four times as a 4-year-old and finished 8th, 5th, 7th and 10th.

Giacomo, 2005

16: 3-2-5

Best non-Derby performance: Won the San Diego Handicap as a 4-year-old

Why he’s on the list: Giacomo was a bit of a plodder with a late closing kick who needed a race to set up perfectly to win. That's exactly what he got on Derby Day when the leaders ran one of the quickest half-miles in the history of the race and Giacomo came from way out of it down the stretch to win at 50-1. The rest of his career, though, was unremarkable and he was never much of a threat against top-class competition.

Proud Clarion, 1967

25: 6-4-2

Best non-Derby performance: Set a track record at Aqueduct in the Roamer Handicap

Why he’s on the list: This 30-1 longshot won the Derby that was supposed to go to Damascus, who subsequently won the Preakness and Belmont and is still regarded as one of the great Thoroughbreds of all-time. Both as a 2- and 3-year-old, Proud Clarion had done little to suggest he was in the same weight class. But on Derby Day, Proud Clarion circled the field on the far turn and pulled away as Damascus struggled to a third-place finish. He won just one other stakes race the rest of his career.

Count Turf, 1951

45: 8-4-6

Best non-Derby performance: Won the Questionnaire Handicap as a 5-year-old

Why he’s on the list: Though he had regal breeding and striking looks, Count Turf underperformed so badly in his prep races that trainer Sol Rutchick decided not to even make the trip to Kentucky, changed his mind on race day but missed his flight and had to experience the thrill of victory by listening to the radio. After deciding not to contest the Preakness, Count Turf was seventh in the Belmont and was never a factor in major races the rest of his career.

Brokers Tip, 1933

14: 1-2-1

Best non-Derby performance: Third in the Cincinnati Trophy as a 2-year-old

Why he’s on the list: This remains one of the most famous Derbies ever because Don Meade, the jockey of Brokers Tip, and Herb Fisher on runner-up Head Play, literally grabbed and hit each other as their horses raced side-by-side down the stretch. Brokers Tip came out on top by a nose — and it was the only race he ever won.

Clyde Van Dusen, 1929

42: 12-7-8

Best non-Derby performance: Won the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes as a 2-year-old

Why he’s on the list: After his surprise victory, Colonel Edward Bradley – the owner of the beaten favorite Blue Larkspur – reportedly called the small gelding Clyde Van Dusen “the worst horse to win the Derby in 20 years.” It was a bitter but prescient comment: Clyde Van Dusen never won another major race and eventually settled into the cheap claiming ranks later in his career.

Behave Yourself, 1921

18: 4-2-1

Best non-Derby performance: Second place in the Blue Grass Stakes

Why he’s on the list: One popular story from the time suggests that Behave Yourself was able to win the roses when his more highly touted stablemate, Black Servant, got spooked by a hat that was thrown onto the racetrack by a spectator. His racing career was undistinguished otherwise, and he was donated to the U.S. Army Remount Service several years later.

Pink Star, 1907

16: 3-1-2

Best non-Derby performance: Won a $500 race as a 2-year-old, which would be worth about $17,000 in today’s dollars.

Why he’s on the list: The longest shot in the field, Pink Star was the only horse in the 33rd Kentucky Derby to handle the heavy track that day. He was described in news accounts as having a poor disposition and ugly stride, and his owner had such little confidence that he didn’t even bet his own horse that day. His Derby winnings of $4,850 represented 84% of his career earnings, and he didn't win another race as a 3-year-old. He rarely raced in subsequent years and ended up as a farm horse.

Manuel, 1899

21: 4-5-4

Best non-Derby performance: Won the Prospect Stakes as a 2-year-old

Why he’s on the list: Just five horses showed up for the 25th running of the Derby, which is considered by experts to be one of the weakest in history. Manuel didn’t accomplish much on the racetrack outside of winning the Derby, and he never got a chance later in his career to prove his quality due to an injury suffered when he stepped in a hole.

Not all Kentucky Derby winners were great: Looking back at 12 forgettable winners (2024)
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