Barbaro featured in our Kentucky Derby biggest moments
Horse Racing

Talk Derby To Me: The Biggest Moments In The Kentucky Derby

When the starting gun fires on the first Saturday in May, Louisville, Kentucky will be ready for the 149th renewal of the nation's oldest continuously running sporting event. The Kentucky Derby is known for being the most exciting two minutes in sports, and with over three centuries under its reins, there are plenty of Kentucky Derby moments to look back on.

The Mane Event: Secretariat Is The Greatest Of All Time

Known to many as the greatest horse of all time, Secretariat made his Derby debut in 1973. However, weeks before, ‘Big Red’ was defeated by Sham in the Wood Memorial race. With 14 horses in the field at the Kentucky Derby, all eyes were on Sham and Secretariat going head-to-head for a rematch.

So, when Sham took off ahead of the rest, spectators thought he was sailing away with the victory. Suddenly, halfway down the finishing stretch, a galloping Secretariat caught up and powered past Sham by two and a half lengths with a record time of 1 minute and 59 seconds.

In the following two weeks, Secretariat responded to the media pressure by setting two world records at Belmont Stakes – crossing the one-and-a-half-mile finish line in just 2 minutes and 24 seconds, a whopping 31 lengths ahead of the second-place colt. To this day, if your horse is being compared to Secretariat, then it’s considered to be one of the best.

Wes Welker likes to Stirrup Trouble

Well, the four-game suspension was worth it for former NFL wide receiver Wes Welker. The Denver Bronco athlete, alongside many other celebrities, attended the 2014 Kentucky Derby and had a little too much fun meeting a girl named Molly. Welker had taken MDMA cut with amphetamines and after poppin' a Molly, he was bettin'. The footballer ended up winning $50,000, though Churchill Downs later said he was generously and accidentally overpaid. Regardless, Welker may not be sharing his drugs but he sure is sharing his profit. 

Get Off Your High Horse & Bet On The Dark Horse

In 1913, about 30,000 gathered at Churchill Downs to wager on eight horses. Ten Point looked to be a crowd favorite. But then again, Foundation was fresh off a Blue Grass Stakes win that had him looking like a contender. If one thing is sure, very few were looking at Donerail, who had yet to win a race that year, saddling up with 91-1 odds.

Owner Thomas P. Hayes was low on faith, not seeing the point in entering Donerail if he was inevitably going to fall in Louisville. The colt was forced to be stabled three miles from the track with the disadvantage of needing to walk through dirt roads on race day – not a good betting factor. But, once the race kicked off and the three-year-olds in front grew tired, Donerail started to stirrup an upset, eventually crossing the finish line first by half a length.

To this day, Donerail remains the longest shot to win in Kentucky Derby history. His 91-1 odds cashed out $184.90 for those who placed a typical $2 bet. The underdog story plastered Donerail and the Derby all over the front-page news, labeling the race as a true American sporting event for the first time.

Hold your Horses, Underdog Story Continues 

Donerail walked so Mine That Bird could run. Nearly a century later, Chip Woolley and his gelding were determined the plant their hooves and become American racing threats after qualifying 19th out of 20 horses for the 2009 Kentucky Derby.

After a rainy morning and a muddy track, Mine That Bird was off to a slow start once the gates opened. Trailing far enough behind the rest of the field that the announcer failed to mention him most of the race. Rounding the final corner while running for the roses, Mine That Bird caught up and accelerated in the final stretch to finish by six lengths over second place. Mine That Bird is remembered as the third-largest upset in Derby history behind none other than Donerail and last year's shocking Rich Strike (80-1). Entering with 50-1 odds, a $2 bet on Mine That Bird paid out $103.20.

Rich Strike Stuns Last Second At Deadline

History doesn't always have to be old. The 2022 Kentucky Derby saw Rich Strike cash out 80-1 odds, the second-highest in the race's 148-year span. The chestnut champion finished one-and-a-quarter miles in just over 2 minutes and 2 seconds, squeezing past favored Epicenter and Zandon. Funnily enough, the horse had little time to prepare. Jockey Sonny Leon learned 30 seconds before Friday's deadline that Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas and Ethereal Road pulled from the competition, sliding Rich Strike into one of 20 starting gates. 

Stop horsing Around, Barbaro Means business

More than just a horse, Barbaro had a natural competitive instinct. Taking five weeks off ahead of the 2006 Derby, Barbaro stood in the starting gate with an undefeated record and second-favored 6-1 odds. It was an easy victory for the bay-colored colt, finishing six-and-a-half lengths ahead of his closet competition. Barbaro’s jockey tucked his whip away in the final furlong, as the horse’s energy was fueled by his own hunger to win.

Sports fans united to share admiration for the racehorse, whose determination and endurance mimicked that of a human athlete. It wasn’t a surprise when viewership skyrocketed at Preakness Stakes with fans eager to watch Barbaro likely to win the first Triple Crown since 1978. Sadly, the muscular champion suffered a catastrophic leg injury on the Preakness track.

Despite overwhelming prayers, cards, flowers and daily news updates on his condition, Barbaro couldn’t recover and was euthanized nearly a year after his triumphant Derby win. Barbaro is now commemorated at the entrance of Churchill Downs with a 1500-pound bronze statue holding the ashes of the brawny beauty. Proving that an exciting two minutes is all it takes to leave a lasting impression for years to come.