horse racing

Kentucky Derby Legends: Famous Horses That Made History

As the trumpets sound and the crowds roar with anticipation, an almost palpable sense of history is in the air. One can't help but think of the equine legends that have galloped their way into timelessness at the Kentucky Derby.

Below, we pay tribute to the heroes of the Kentucky Derby, where a new chapter is written in the history of horse racing each year. Let's reflect on the tales of the most famous horses that have left indelible hoof prints on the tracks of Churchill Downs.


Secretariat, a name etched in the archive of horse racing history, didn't just win the Kentucky Derby, he transcended it. In the 1973 Kentucky Derby, this chestnut colt did not just race. He flew, completing the 1 1/4 miles in a record-breaking time of 1:59 2/5, a record that still stands today. Owned by Penny Chenery and expertly trained by Lucien Laurin, Secretariat became an emblem of exceptional stamina, speed, and spirit.

As he thundered down the stretch of Churchill Downs, a sense of awe enveloped the onlookers. Secretariat's stride, power, and determination painted a picture of equine perfection and left spectators in thrall.

With each race leading to the Triple Crown, Secretariat outclassed his competition, leaving an indelible mark on the world of thoroughbred racing and becoming a cultural icon that would inspire future generations. To this day, no thoroughbred breaks Secretariat’s record, and every horse racing fan is watching each Kentucky Derby closely to see if there is a new record breaker in the new era.

So, if you’re excited about the upcoming 2024 Kentucky Derby, you can regularly visit to check for the odds and know who is among the contenders who will most likely be the next record holder.

Seattle Slew

Seattle Slew, a name familiar to Kentucky Derby fans, is the next racehorse carved in Kentucky Derby history. This thoroughbred has raw power and unbridled grace and was named one of the finest racehorses ever to grace the Churchill Downs tracks.

Born in 1974, he exceeded all expectations by becoming a champion thoroughbred and a household name, capturing the hearts of many.

Seattle Slew's impressive career was marked by iconic victories, including the prestigious Triple Crown in 1977, a feat accomplished by only thirteen horses in the history of American racing as of 2023. At three years old, Seattle Slew started his pursuit of the esteemed Triple Crown. His first challenge was the renowned Kentucky Derby, contending against some of the finest in the field.

Jean Cruguet, his skilled jockey, steered him with expertise, and Seattle Slew's performance was spectacular, maintaining the lead throughout the race and securing his triumph at Churchill Downs.

Off the racetrack, his legacy extended into his successful career at stud, where he sired a generation of champions. Seattle Slew's influence on the racing industry endures, a true testament to the timeless spirit of a champion.

American Pharoah

After a lengthy 37-year hiatus, American Pharoah triumphantly claimed victory in the US Triple Crown, a feat unmatched by any racehorse since.

The sport of racing thrives on its champions. In the past few years, American Pharoah has stood out as a true icon, capturing the Kentucky Derby en route to securing the coveted Grand Slam of American horse racing.

Ahmed Zayat, the Egyptian American who owned and bred the American Pharoah, had unwavering faith in the horse’s potential. Zayat decided to purchase him back when American Pharoah did not meet the $1 million mark in sales. American Pharoah was placed under the guidance of renowned Hall of Fame coach Bob Baffert for training and was primed for an outstanding season as a three-year-old. The path that led American Pharoah to the Kentucky Derby wound through Arkansas, utilizing the Oaklawn track in Hot Springs.


Another racehorse that we must pay tribute to is Affirmed. Affirmed won the 1978 Kentucky Derby and bagged the Triple Crown title in the same year. Affirmed thundered across the finish line of the Kentucky Derby, showcasing not just speed but the heart of a champion. With young jockey Steve Cauthen at the reins, Affirmed emerged as an icon for resilience and excellence in thoroughbred racing.

In 1977, Affirmed was honored with the Eclipse Award for Outstanding 2-Year-Old Male, boasting an impressive record of seven wins, two placements, and no-shows across nine starts and total earnings amounting to $343,477.

The following year, as a 3-year-old, Affirmed maintained an unbroken streak of victories in his first eight races, a triumphant run that included illustrious wins at the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes, securing the coveted Triple Crown.

Smarty Jones

A mere 700 miles northeast of Louisville, Kentucky, Someday Farm in New Hope, Pennsylvania, starkly contrasted the iconic Churchill Downs and the famed Kentucky Derby. However, the distance seemed to shrink in the spring of 2004 as Smarty Jones, with John Servis as trainer and Stewart Elliot as jockey, became the horse to watch, entering the 130th Kentucky Derby as the top contender.

Plowing through the muddy track, Smarty Jones caught up to the other favorite, Lion Heart, resulting in a thrilling head-to-head showdown. As he surged ahead and neared the finish line, the esteemed sports commentator Tom Durkin proclaimed him “the first unbeaten champion of the Kentucky Derby since Seattle Slew in 1977!”

Smarty Jones was the favored contender in the betting stakes and held the crowd's hearts. Rising from modest origins to ascend the peaks of thoroughbred racing, Smarty Jones gifted his jockey, trainer, and owner-breeder an unforgettable journey in their inaugural visit to The Kentucky Derby.


These equine stars of the Kentucky Derby have carved their names into the record books and the hearts of fans worldwide. Their legendary performances are a reminder of the beauty and excitement that horse racing offers.