Kentucky Derby: Where are the Superstars

The Kentucky Derby has had its share of controversies and huge longshot winners since 2009, especially in recent years. It also has had a scarcity of major stars win the race. So, has the Derby become more of a show than a meaningful race? It’s still too early to answer that, but it is worth discussing. ~ Steve Haskin

Kentucky Derby: Where are the Superstars?

By Steve Haskin


As the second season for 3-year-olds approaches, we have to wonder if we’re about to see any blossoming superstars emerge? You remember what a superstar is, right? And I presume you remember when they used to begin their path to superstardom in the Kentucky Derby. Well, maybe not on both counts unless you’re an old timer like yours truly.

Has there been a better year for a 3-year-old to rise up the ranks and become a bona fide superstar? There sure doesn’t look like there is a Breeders’ Cup Cup Classic-type of horse who can claim that title, with the possible exception of Cody’s Wish if he proves as effective stretching out to nine and 10 furlongs.

Wouldn’t it be great if we can find such a horse who ran in the Kentucky Derby, a race that used to go beyond its iconic status in American culture and actually produce not only great horses but all-time greats.

Look at the greatest two minutes in sports and its recent results one has to wonder if the Derby is now more about the glory than the story. There will always be glory winning the Derby and it will forever remain the sport’s most sought after prize and a piece of Americana. But does it still tell the story of the sport as it did when it showcased its superstars, such as Secretariat, Citation, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, Count Fleet, Spectacular Bid, Whirlaway, Gallant Fox, Assault, etc.?

So, what has happened to the Run for the Roses when it comes to producing superstars and all-time greats? Is it the race itself? Perhaps it simply is in a prolonged and inexplicable dry spell. Is it the breed? Could it be possible that we no longer are capable of producing all-time great horses, with the sirens of the breeding farms and big bucks luring owners and their horses away from the racetrack at the end of their 3-year-old campaign.

Or could it be the Derby simply has become too difficult to win and no longer a true indicator of who the best 3-year-old is? Every starter in a 19 or 20-horse field has to qualify on points. If you look at the Derby fields in the 1970s when you had several all-time greats, the average size of their field was 12, so post positions, traffic, and just getting lucky didn’t apply nearly as much as it does today.

How drastically have times changed when it comes to the Derby? In a nine-year period, from 1972 to 1980, seven Kentucky Derby winners were elected to the Hall of Fame. In the past 33 years, only three Derby winners have been elected to the Hall of Fame and none them are considered comparable to the horses mentioned above. It must be said that two of those three horses — California Chrome and Silver Charm — gained entrance into the Hall of Fame by racing and continuing their success at ages 4 and 5. So I’m afraid this alarming statistic will not improve anytime soon, if ever.

Since 2016, excluding the 2020 Derby run in September because of Covid, the last seven Derby winners have gone on to win just five of their 23 starts, with three of those wins coming from Mandaloun, who inherited his Derby win after the drug positive and disqualification of Medina Spirit. And one of Mandaloun’s subsequent wins came on a disqualification. The other two came from Justify, who won the Preakness and Belmont and then was gone. So of those last seven winners, five of them did not win a race after the Derby. Of course, we still have this year’s winner Mage, who has only run once and should win his share of races if he can duplicate his Derby performance. It also says a lot that the last seven Derby winners made an average of only three starts following the Derby.

Is this just one of those temporary downward trends? Well, let’s go back from 2000 to 2013. Those 14 Derby winners had a record of 19 wins from 84 starts following the Derby, while finishing out of the money 42 times.

Yes, we have had superstars American Pharoah and California Chrome and to a lesser degree Justify, who whizzed by in an instant, win the Derby. But it is unlikely any of those will ever be considered an all-time great. And Pharoah and Chrome were almost a decade ago. Since then we have had a drug positive, two disqualifications, including the first ever stewards disqualification, and the second biggest longshot to win in the history of the race.

The reason I am bringing all this up is not to demean the Derby. It has given me too many special moments over the years and it will always be the race horsemen want to win, bettors want to bet, and non racing fans want to watch.

One thing we have learned about the Derby during this century, and this year in particular, is that the merits of a horse often have no bearing on where they finish in the Derby. We have seen too many horses finish up the track and come back and win classics and major stakes.

In this year’s Derby, the pace of the race was brutal with fractions of :22 1/5, :45 3/5, and 1:10 flat. Verifying, who led by a head in all three calls, was virtually eased, finishing 16th. Kingsbarns, who was second by a head the first two calls and still second after three-quarters, faded to 14th, beaten over 25 lengths. Reincarnate, who was third by a half-length after a quarter and third by one length after a half and three-quarters, finished 13th, beaten over 24 lengths. Normally one would think it would take a while to recover from battling on the lead in a 20-horse field through blistering fractions and then tiring badly.

But Verifying came back to finish second, beaten a half-length, in the Matt Winn Stakes before winning the Indiana Derby. Kingsbarns came back to finish second, beaten a neck, in the Pegasus Stakes. Reincarnate came back to win the Los Alamitos Derby by 2 1/2 lengths. Another horse close to that scorching pace, Two Phil’s, who was 1 1/2 lengths back at the half and two lengths back at the three-quarters and still ran a remarkable race to finish second, came back to win the Ohio Derby by 5 3/4 lengths.

So three of the horses who were close to that suicidal pace came back to win Derbys, while another was beaten in a photo. Two Phil’s, unfortunately, has been retired with an injury, but the horses who finished 13th, 14th, and 16th all came back and quickly reestablished their reputation, as if the Kentucky Derby never happened.

The same thing happened to Palace Malice in 2013, who cooked himself with a :45 1/5 half in the Derby before tiring to finish 12th. He then bounced back to win the Belmont Stakes by 3 1/4 lengths.

In the 2022 Derby, Cyberknife, who was only 3 1/2 lengths off a suicidal :45 1/5 half before fading to 18th, beaten 43 lengths, and Taiba, who was only three lengths back at the half before tiring to finish 12th, beaten 18 lengths, came back to finish noses apart in the Haskell Invitational in track-record time, with Cyberknife preceding the Haskell with a victory in the Matt Winn Stakes and then getting beat a head by the older Cody’s Wish in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. Here are two more horses badly beaten in the Kentucky Derby after chasing a blistering pace who became stars.

We have seen other horses shrug off terrible performances in the Derby, such as Snow Chief, who romped in the Preakness; Hansel, who won the Preakness and Belmont Stakes; and Commendable, Lemon Drop Kid, and Creator, who won the Belmont. You can add horses like Point Given, Birdstone, Lookin At Lucky, Oxbow, Union Rags, Editor’s Note, and War of Will, who won classics after finishing off the board in the Derby. The first two also went on to win the Travers.

So does all this mean horses who are good in the Derby are not that good and horses who are bad in the Derby are not that bad? If so, how do you handicap the race and how do you handicap horses coming out of the race?

For the casual fan, the Derby has left a lasting impact on a national scale twice this century. Once when the 50-1 shot Mine That Bird won and the race was made into a major motion picture and the other when the 80-1 shot Rich Strike won, with a motion picture now in the works. California Chrome’s story had the making of an excellent movie, but that opportunity came and went. Movies like Secretariat, 50-1, and Seabiscuit all ended with an epic victory, There really was no place to end a movie about Chrome.

But popularity and Hollywood interest aside, the purpose of this column was merely to pose a question about the relevancy of the Kentucky Derby strictly as a horse race now compared to years ago and how to evaluate the horses who win it and the horses who lose it…badly. So whether you finished in the first five in this year’s Derby or the last five, good luck the rest of the year and may one of you turn out to be a superstar and, yes, race next year. The Derby needs you.

Next weeks column will be a tribute to Funny Cide.

Racing historian, author, and award-winning retired journalist for the Daily Racing Form and The Blood-Horse, Steve Haskin was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame’s Media Roll of Honor in 2016. Known for his racing knowledge and insightful prose, he has been an exclusive contributor to since 2020.



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194 Responses to “Kentucky Derby: Where are the Superstars”

  1. Lynda King says:

    Mage The Magnificent has arrived at Saratoga.
    He looks great! Does not appear that the Haskell took much out of him.
    Gustavo is such a gentleman.
    He thanked everyone for taking such great care of him, his team and Mage at Monmouth Park.

  2. Jeff says:

    Thanks Steve for a thought provoking article backed up with data. I suspected this was the case regarding the KD. I’ve shared my opinion previously regarding KD point system and management. Point system has pretty much taken out all female horses from participating, and taken away the significance of a 7 furlong prep race early in the season. Also, giving heavy points to races that really have no business being involved. Thanks again!

    • Roy says:

      Jeff, I agree that the points system needs a makeover. But as for fillies, they can run in points races to qualify. Before the points system, Serena’s Song won the Jim Beam Stakes before her 16th-place finish in the derby. Winning Colors won the SA Derby before winning the Kentucky Derby. Genuine Risk was in the Wood before winning the Ky Derby.

  3. Steve Haskin says:

    Funny Cide column will be posted tonight.

  4. Nelson Maan says:

    Nest is the 4 to 5 favorite and Clairiere at odds on right now … 12 minutes to the exciting showdown between two brilliant champions…

    • Nelson Maan says:

      Champion Nest wins the Shuvee easily over Clairiere taking the lead in their division.

      Clairiere had previously defeated Nest by 3 lengths in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff won by the Champion Older Dirt Female last year… but Nest looks to be stronger as a 4 year old now…!

    • Nelson Maan says:

      Todd Pletcher may have another daughter of Curlin as a potential Stakes horse in Camera ( CURLIN – CASSIES DREAMER, BY FLATTER ) who is debuting in the 6th race (4:06 ET) at Saratoga today. She only needs a clean break to attempt an easy winning debut… there a couple of other good prospects in that race.

      Camera is a $1,050,000 acquisition by Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners/Whitehorse/Madaket ownership at the 2022 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Select Yearling Sales…

  5. Lynda King says:

    For anyone interested in what happened to Rich Strike:

    Per his owner Rick Dawson as of 2 days ago, Rich Strike is still in rehab and receiving treatment at Margeaux Farm under the direction of R&R since May. He will go back for another re-examination in 30 days.

    While Mr. Dawson has not given any information as to the nature of the injury but said he has had the injury a long time and probably explains his poor performance in his last two starts. He said additionally that he was advised by R&R that had he continued to race him with the injury there could have been catastrophic results.

    • JanBer says:

      I’ve been thinking it’s bone bruising which would be consistent with what you’re describing. Could be a couple other things too though, we probably won’t be told. It does beg the question as to why he was being put in races in that condition.

      • Lynda King says:

        JanBer, reading BTW I tend to agree with you that most likely is bone bruising.
        Not an uncommon condition in Thoroughbreds as I have read.

        If you recall the pre-purchase exam (by Taylor Made) for California Chrome revealed bone bruising.
        He spent roughly 4 months on pasture rest before returning successfully to racing.

        Not sure how long Rich Strike has been out of action, 3 months maybe?

        Wishing him the best!

  6. Roy says:

    The Haskell was a Travers tuneup for Mage. He didn’t resume training until 5 weeks after the Preakness. Obviously, 10 furlongs will suit him just fine.

  7. Roy says:

    My takeaway from the Haskell: I’m looking forward to the return of Practical Move. Maybe I should say HOPING for his return.

  8. Nelson Maan says:

    I find very interesting the topic of horses rebounding after a dismal performance in the Derby. Steve’s examples motivated me to look for other notable cases. Below are the achievements of some renowned horses after their subpar Derby.

    Counterpoint 11th in 1951: 1951 Horse of the Year. 1951 Champion 3-Year-Old Colt.
    Personality 8th in 1970: 1970 Horse of the Year, 1970 Champion 3-Year-Old Colt
    Gulch 6th in 1987: 1988 Champion Sprinter
    Seeking the Gold 7th in 1988: won the Dwyer, Peter Pan and the Super Derby, 2nd in the Haskell and BCC
    Holy Bull 12th in 1994: Hall of Fame – 2001,Eclipse Award 1994 Horse of the Year, Eclipse Award 1994 Champion 3-Year-Old Colt

    Tabasco Cat 6th in 1994: won Preakness and Belmont, 2nd by a neck in the BCC
    Skip Away 12th in 1996: Hall of Fame – 2004, Eclipse Award 1998 Horse of the Year, Eclipse Award 1998 Champion Older Horse, Eclipse Award 1997 Champion Older Horse, Eclipse Award 1996 Champion 3-Year-Old Colt
    Summer Bird 6th in 2009: Eclipse Award 2009 Champion 3-Year-Old Colt
    Flower Alley 9th in 2005: won the Jim Dandy and the Travers, 2nd in the BCC

    Whitmore (g) 19th 2016: Won five consecutive races after the Derby including the G3’s Count Fleet and Maryland Sprints. Eclipse Award 2020 Champion Male Sprinter.

    These notorious cases show that every horse are entitled to “one bad day at the office” …

    • Matthew W says:

      Best Pal was beaten by more than two lengths in the 1991 Derby…he was prominent at the top level of older horses for years…..Free House was beaten a couple lengths, in third, came back and lost Preakness by a nose and Belmont by 1 1/2…..won Santa Anita Hcp wire to wire withstanding several challenges, and Pacific Classic.

      • Matthew W says:

        Snow Chief was 11th in the Derby….won Preakness by five lengths, won Jersey Derby (gr1, 10 fur) by two lengths…won Strub…won Oaklawn Hcp….

    • Roy says:

      Nice list! I must add Slew O’ Gold, who you mentioned in your decades list. He finished 4th in the derby and went on to a superb Hall of Fame career, winning the Woodward and JCGC twice each, the Whitney, and the Marlboro Cup.

      • Nelson Maan says:

        Thanks for the reply Roy…. you are right about Slew O’Gold great rebound… I was just following Steve’s criterion of picking horses finishing after the first five …

        There other extreme cases like Granville who lost his jockey and Thunder Snow who decided to do rodeo in the Derby and went on to do brilliantly afterwards…

        Again, horse racing is so rich that we could be talking about it for days…LOL

        • Nelson Maan says:

          Imagine if we include the great fillies and mares of all time in our discussions…

        • Roy says:

          Included in the elite club of derby also-rans (Gulch and Whitmore) that went on to BC Sprint and Eclipse Sprinter championships were Trinniberg and Artax.

          • Nelson Maan says:

            Yes Roy … good observations.

            Artax had won the Santa Catalina and San Felipe Stakes wire to wire … the latter over Real Quiet no less! The son of Marquetry could not do better than 3rd in the Santa Anita Derby behind Indian Charlie and Real Quiet.

            Trinniberg was the last pure sprinter to run in the Derby right before the point system was implemented (in 2013).

  9. Lynda King says:

    GRR (skipping Travers) and Arabian Knight going back to California. Mage going straight to Saratoga.

  10. Matthew W says:

    Brilliance that begets brilliance is a rare thing, Geaux Rocket Ride, Candy Ride out of an Uncle Mo mare you wonder what may become of a breeding like that—so far so good….

  11. Mike Relva says:

    AK pushed in deep end,considering zero races for over 6 mo. Insane!

  12. John Goggin says:

    Congrats to Richard Mandella and GRR (sorry, can’t get the name spelled correct). A very, very nice win over a very, very nice field.

  13. Lynda King says:

    Congrats to Shotgunhottie (by Gun Runner).
    These Gun Runners are like their sire, they age like fine wine.
    I think the Distaff will be very interesting this year.

  14. Matthew W says:

    Terrific ride by Big Money Mike! Horse was rank, at the 6 furlong marker, Mike held his ground….Mandella said two months ago—before The Affirmed—they were looking at running in The Haskell….and they were ready….

  15. Mike Relva says:

    AK never had a chance!

  16. Lynda King says:

    Congrats Geaux Rocket Ride and Wet Paint.

  17. Well this is my take on this year’s Haskell. I think for Kentucky Derby winner, Mage, to have a chance in this race he going to have to have a “hot” front-end pace. He is better off coming from way off the pace (IMO) then trying to run with the pace like he tried in the Preakness. The early pace in this race looks to be set by Arabian Knight. In his only 2 race came out of the gate as if shot out of cannon. Would not be surprised to see Awesome Strong and Extra Anejo pressing the pace. I think Geaux Rocket Rides and Tapit Trice sitting just off the pace with Mage near the back. The mystery horse in this is Salute the Stars who ran a really good last race last time out. My other thought in this race is Extra Anejo… Will Asmussen elect to push the pace on Arabian Knight or if he sees others going with Arabian Knight have the jock pull back and come later in the race.
    Well here is how I am going to play it.
    Superfecta key $.50 ( I know, last of the big-time spenders … LOL)
    1 Arabian Knight,
    2 Tapit Trice, Extra Anejo, Geaux Rocket Ride (money Mike on him)
    3 Tapit Trice, Extra Anejo, Geaux Rocket Ride , Salute the Stars
    4 All but Arabian Knight and Awesome Strong (hope I don’t get burned here but I think he is in the race as a rabbit)

    Good luck to you all and may the best horse win !!!

    • arlingtonfan says:

      We have liftoff! Cheers for Geaux Rocket Ride, Mike Smith, and Richard Mandella!

    • Ms Blacktype says:

      You were close, Downthestretch! I was happy to see Geaux Rocket Ride win. Mandella prepped him perfectly and it paid off. Both Mage and Arabian Knight (2nd and 3rd) were coming off long layoffs. Could be a different story in the Travers, but I liked what I saw of the winner. Tapit Trice (4th?) needs a confidence builder, in my opinion.

      • Lynda King says:

        I think Tapit Trice needs weight and some R&R.

      • Although Arabian Knight finished gamely for third not sure I would send him to the Travers. You are correct on Mandella and Mike Smith perfect set up. Mage on got the pace he need but was not going to pass the winner today. A little disappointed with Salute the Stars and Tapit Trice race.

      • Ms Blacktype, unless Baffert can get this horse to “rate” the east coast will just run him into the ground… remember the Travers is another 1/8 of a mile. I think Arabian Knight would be better suited for the BC dirt mile. Have Reincarnate and Arabian Lion for the Travers and National Treasure and Fort Bragg for the Pennsylvania Derby at Parx

    • Mike Relva says:

      Cue excuses for Arabian K.

  18. Jiffy says:

    Thank you for an enjoyable and thought-provoking column. But the thoughts it provoked for me were a little bit different. I don’t think this issue is new and I don’t think it’s a problem.

    First let me say I have loved the Kentucky Derby with a passion for 60 years. My friends all know that it is my favorite annual event and that Derby Day is my favorite day of the year. I have a collection of quotations about the Derby, and many of them make the same distinction that you made–as David Alexander put it in 1963, “The Kentucky Derby is a horse race like the Preakness and the Belmont as well as a state of mind like Greenwich Village and Zen Buddhism.” I relate to it unapologetically as a state of mind. I find it impossible to think of it simply as a horse race because it’s not that simple. But it is possible to evaluate the quality of the winners and losers.

    It is true that the 1970’s produced an amazing group of Derby winners with three Triple Crowns plus Spectacular Bid and Riva Ridge. No decade since can compare to that, and with the possible exception of the 1940’s no earlier decade can either. The 70’s were an anomaly, but if you go back a little farther, you find the same issues that this column discusses. In the 1950’s Derbies were won by horses like Middleground, Determine, Count Turf, and Needles–names that are not likely to come up at the breakfast table 70 years later. Derbies in the 50’s were lost by Native Dancer, Nashua, Bold Ruler, Round Table, and Gallant Man. The 1960’s produced some remarkable horses, but Kelso, Buckpasser, Graustark, and Dr. Fager didn’t run in the Derby and Damascus got beat.

    I don’t think the Kentucky Derby has ever been a definitive predicter of greatness, but I don’t think any race can be, and I don’t think it has to. I prefer to enjoy it for what it is. Today’s horses, in general, may not measure up to those of the past, and we all have our own theories as to why. But I don’t think Derby performances have much to do with the big picture. Some good horses lose and some not-so-good horses win and they always will.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      The difference is that now we dont get superstars who run in the Derby. It wasnt a problem in 1950s because Native Dancer, Nashua, Bold Ruer, Round Table, Gallant Man, and Sword Dancer all ran in it and all are in the Hall of Fame. I’ll add Damascus to that list. The column wasnt so much about horses that win the Derby but horses that run in it. And we just dont get superstars who win it or run in it anymore.. I believe the Derby indeed was a predictor of greatness.

  19. Nelson Maan says:

    Provocative article… a wealth of fond historical memories is rekindled whenever I see the word superstars in Steve’s columns.

    When you have a promising two-year old it is just natural to aim at making him the next Triple Crown champion. It is a supreme accolade that would not only make the athlete a hero but would also elevate his team to celebrity status …

    It is also notable that for most of the 20th century the older-horse division and the handicap races were as important as the Triple Crown. That hallmark mentality was an important building block of the golden eras of horse racing.

    There have been innumerable exchanges between Steve and many of his followers about how horse racing has changed over the last quarter century. Almost unchanged is the elevation of the champion two-year-old as the winter favorite to attempt the triple crown. But the journey to stardom or greatness entails earning championships at ages of two, three and four… that is the benchmark of legends and one that will not be met but the modern icons.

    The equine heroes of the last century set records and ran faster than any horse has ever run before. They competed with and defeated other Hall of Fame members while running as frequently as they could.

    Their supremacy sustained for at least three racing seasons offered the illusion of them transcending mortality.
    They became super stars because they ran with a sense of destiny!

    And thanks to the sportsmanship of their owners, we have a golden standard for greatness. The feats of the iron horses have made racing history richer.

    Cigar and Skip Away were the last horses reminiscent of the golden age of racing. Some may include California Chrome and Gun Runner as the last remnants of the epic 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.

    In modern days a champion two-year-old needs only to win 2 or 3 more Grade one races to be prematurely retired… and if he can win the Triple Crown, the Travers and the Breeder’s Cup Classic then he will be automatically branded a superstar securing induction to the Hall of Fame.

    The bright side of this new paradigm is that the historians like Steve will have an easier job chronicling their careers…

    • Nelson Maan says:

      I would like to share some figures about superstars and the Derby since it is Steve’s theme this week…

      This is my personal list of MALE stars and superstars by decades since 1950. The asterisk denotes Derby entrants, and their number is written between Parentheses.

      2020-2022 Fligthline……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..1
      2010-2019 Wise Dan, Justify*, Gun Runner*, California Chrome*, American Pharoah*, Arrogate……………….6 (4)
      2000-2010 Curlin*, Invasor, Ghostzapper, Point Given*, Tiznow, Barbaro*…………………………………..6 (3)
      1990-1999 Cigar, Holy Bull*, Skip Away*, Silver Charm*, A.P. Indy…………………………………………………5 (3)
      1980-1989 Sunday Silence*,Easy Goer*,Alysheba*,John Henry, Slew o’ Gold*,Precisionist………………………………..6 (4)
      1970-1979 Ack Ack,Riva Ridge*,Secretariat*,Forego*,Seattle Slew*,Affirmed*,Alydar*,Spectacular Bid*………………8 (7)
      1960-1969 Kelso,Buckpasser,Damascus*,Dr. Fager,Northern Dancer*,Arts and Letters*,Carry Back*…………………….7 (4)
      1950-1959 Round Table*,Bold Ruler *, Gallant Man*,Swaps*,Nashua*, Native Dancer*, Tom Fool, Sword Dancer*…8 (7)

      You can infer that until the mid-nineties greatness was still achieved through the test of time.

      32 out of the 47 superstars, stars and champions listed here competed in the Derby and 16 won it.

      But the Kentucky Derby isn’t everything!

      Passing the Derby were the immortals like Man O’War, Dr. Fager, Buckpasser and other Hall of Famers, such as Colin, Sysonby, Equipoise, Challedon, Armed, and Stymie, also bypassed the Derby. Other renowned champions like Seabiscuit, Tom Fool, Kelso, Native Diver, never started in any of the Triple Crown races.

      In fact the first superstar of this 2020-2029 decade is a horse that was not ready for the Triple Crown but was carefully managed and trained to make him literally invincible. I am not sure if Flightline will be elevated to the Hall of Fame but I am sure we won’t see 6 more thrilling Grade One feats. It would take a very long time to see another horse with such mythological aura.

      Statistically we should expect at least to have 3 or 4 more stars in the next seven years… Cody’s Wish and Forte seem to have the upper hand in their respective divisions this year; I reckon that the best 3-year-old is among the ones who missed the Derby…

      • Steve Haskin says:

        Good post. Your key word is sportsmanship. You cant have Hall of Famers unless yor run them.

        • Nelson Maan says:

          Thanks Steve… Geaux Rocket Ride is a rising star bound to run next year for the incomparable Richard Mandella…

      • Ms Blacktype says:

        Eloquently put, Nelson. Your list of superstars are horses that I would consider great ones, in the old Bloodhorse vernacular and book of the same name. Both Steve’s column and your commentary are evidence that everyone with a potentially great horse (or just a good one) wants to win the Kentucky Derby for both practical reasons and the almost mystical hold it has on the racing world.

        • Nelson Maan says:

          Thanks for the reply Ms Blacktype.

          Every horse racing fan has his /her own favorite heroes… for instance some people may include in the topmost list horses like Tim Tam, Key to the Mint, Bold Forbes, Best Pal, Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex and even Big Brown…

          Some argue that A.P. Indy as a runner should not be in the list of all-time-greats …

          Sometimes there are horses heralded early as the next super star and they failed to fulfill that promise like Arazi and Favorite Trick…

          The good thing is that American racing history is really rich with a myriad of marvelous horses to admire and idolize…

    • Lynda King says:

      Excellent commentary Nelson. Thank you.
      Most profound statement: ” greatness was still achieved through the test of time”.

      • Nelson Maan says:

        Thanks Lynda… it actually is an expression I had heard/read many times from some Hall of Fame trainers and first-class owners…

  20. Lynda King says:

    Unbelievable! All charges dropped against Maria Borrell.
    42 counts of animal abuse.

    • John Goggin says:

      Disgusting. That’s all I can say right now Lynda.

      • Read the whole story… sounds like her father was the real culprit.

        • John Goggin says:

          Her father’s situation was settled prior to this. Go to this story on US

        • Lynda King says:

          The horses were placed in her care, not her Father’s. They were both charged for animal abuse. He stayed and faced the music. When the arrest warrant was put out for Maria Borrell, she fled Kentucky.
          I remember this case vividly as it was unfolding.
          This happens all the time in animal welfare and abuse cases. The people lawyers up and convinces a judge that they are not guilty when the evidence is right there in broad daylight.

          • Roy says:

            The evidence of abuse was “right there in broad daylight.” The evidence of Maria Borell’s responsibility was, according to the prosecutor and the judge, not as obvious. Would you feel better it the case went to trial and she was found not guilty?

            • Lynda King says:

              Roy, I saw the photos and watched the videos of the horses as they were being removed from the property, the slimy green water tubs with standing green brackish water, the condition of some of the horses that required medical care.
              And who are you to say that she would not have been convicted if she had a jury trial?

              Kentucky had at the time almost totally non-existent animal welfare laws that offered no protections for horses.
              Plus she ran to New York state and hid out for several years.

              Nope, sorry, not you or anyone else can change my mind about this case.

              • Roy says:

                Why are you restating the obvious about the condition of the horses? Nobody denies that. Prosecutors want convictions. They don’t go through the time and expense of a trial if they don’t believe a conviction is likely. I’ve read news reports of the case. Perhaps you would rather ignore the facts. According to reports, Ms. Borell was not in Kentucky at the time. Her father was. Kentucky did not have extradition for misdemeanors. She didn’t flee.

              • John Goggin says:

                The horses were the real losers here. What kind of message does this send to the public?

                • Again read the story they did not prosecute her because the case against her was…. weak !!!

                • Lynda King says:

                  Take heart John. The 43 horses did land safely due to the efforts of dedicated horsemen and horse women like Mr. Rick Porter and Victoria of Fox Hill Farm.
                  The other silver lining is that the Kentucky state assembly passed Borrell’s Law in 2017 and former Governor Matt Blevins signed the bill into law. This law provides that horses and other animals forced in such situations of abuse and cruelty that people like Maria Borell and her Father put them in can be confiscated and placed in safe havens before the trial and these abusers can be forced to pay restitution.
                  There will be a court hearing in September for the final disposition of this case. If Maria Borrell gets her “get out of jail free card” there is still the possibility that the owners of these horses can bring a civil suit(s) against her and her Father.
                  Me personally, I would not entrust this woman or her Father to take care of a nest of hornets, much less train a horse or board one.
                  We see this far too often in many states. Prosecutors and Judges simply do not think that animal abuse such as these 43 horses endured is important.
                  There is now a Federal Law that certain animal abuse cases are a felony.
                  On a side note, Borrel’s trainers license in Kentucky was revoked because she failed to pay the fees. Her relationship with the stable she was working with in Florida was ended because she did not pay the grooms and stable help and her membership in USEF was suspended because she did address the warrants that were issued for her arrest in Kentucky.

  21. Matthew W says:

    If the early 70s had a Vox Populai award it would have included a three-peat by the name of Cougar II…..Never was Racings top horse, but he danced and danced and danced some more….lugging hard left thru the stretch with his high-headed gait—usually flying faster than his rivals!..Stopping, and watching us, in the post parade, standing and staring until a spontaneous roar of approval! Danced with turf titans, always the crowd favorite I didn’t bet on Cougar but it was always great to watch him win, a spirit that I connected with, early on on this sport—if you can lose a bet and feel blessed for what you were gifted, in defeat: a magical Thoroughbred, moving cat-like thru the field, like…a big cat..

    • Nick says:

      Cougars Santa Anita handicap win 1973 over Kennedy Road , Bicker etc was one for the ages ! His 1971 second to ack ack in the big cap was special too and is easy to find on you tube he was the sire of Kentucky derby winner 1982 Gato Del sol

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Cougar’s big chance at nationwide fame and enhancing his reputation was deprived him by the New York stewards.

      • 7.5 Furlongs says:

        Disqualified from first in 1971 Woodward Stakes. West Coast Scout moved to first. Cougar II won race by five lengths, but dropped
        to third for causing interference in stretch run. Cougar II ridden by William Shoemaker. After the race Cougar II’s owner, Mary Jones, promised not to ride Shoemaker again on her horse (think that’s how the story goes). Nevertheless, it was an impressive performance by the horse from South America.

  22. Steve,

    As always another interesting and thought-provoking column. I waited on commenting on it until I saw who was going to enter “The Haskell” and what the odds on who would be favorite for it would be. And to your point, as you have written in this article, the winner of the Kentucky Derby doesn’t carry that aura of invincibility it once did. this year’s winner is co-2nd choice, and ironically the favorite in the race is trained by a man who touts the Kentucky Derby as one of the greatest races in America and once its biggest cheerleader is banned from running horses in it for the foreseeable future by an ownership (CDI) that despises the man. Because of this ban, I had no interest in this year’s KD nor will I have any for next year’s for the same reason.

    Thanks for the article Steve, you are the BEST !!! Have a great week

    • Roy says:

      I don’t believe that Steve said anything about an aura of invincibility. You can go back many decades – probably through the history of the Derby – and find numerous winners that weren’t the morning line favorite in the PREAKNESS, let alone in subsequent races.

    • Matthew W says:

      Arabian Knight was not going to make the 2023 Derby regardless who trained him…

  23. Lynda King says:

    Just watched video of Tapit Trice arriving for the Haskell.
    I could count every single rib, front to back, top to bottom.
    He is one thin horse.