A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

The 13 Most Famous Horses in Kentucky Derby History

Put on your most fabulous hat and grab a mint julep, it's time to head to the races! These are the most famous Kentucky Derby horses in the competition's illustrious history.

1 / 13
Horst Schafer/AP/Shutterstock


In 1973, Secretariat won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes, each in record time, a feat that earned him the Triple Crown. Not only was Secretariat the first horse to win in 25 years, but he won the Belmont Stakes, the longest and often considered the most grueling of the three races, by an outstanding 31 lengths. He was retired later that year and went on to sire hundreds of foals, 57 of which went on to become stakes winners.

2 / 13
Brown stallion. Portrait of a sports brown horse. Riding on a horse. Thoroughbred horse. Beautiful horse.
Elya Vatel/Shutterstock


The very first Kentucky Derby kicked off on May 17, 1875, and the winner of that initial competition was a colt named Aristides. By virtue of being the first winner of the time-honored race, this stallion gets a place on the list of most famous Kentucky Derby horses. Owned by H.P. McGrath, Oliver Lewis was the jockey who brought him across the finish line, according to America’s Library. If you’re an animal lover, you’ll want to read more about our furry friends who changed history.

3 / 13
Close up on race horse galloping on the race track


Everybody loves a Cinderella story and in 1913 Donerail was the first longshot Kentucky Derby horses who took home the garland of roses. As a matter of fact, he was the longest shot of any winner in the contest’s history at 91-1, according to Southern Living.

4 / 13
Preakness at Pimlico Race Track, Baltimore, USA

Seattle Slew

Purchased for just $17,500, according to ESPN Classic, Seattle Slew became the only undefeated Triple Crown in 1977. Of the horse, competing jockey Angel Cordero remembers thinking, “‘Wow, this horse came in quick. And I look and there he was like this, looking at me. And I never noticed that on a horse. Seattle Slew passed me and took every other challenge from behind. And I said to myself, the horse is a champion.”

5 / 13

Genuine Risk

Fillies rarely win the Kentucky Derby, but Genuine Risk beat the odds and took home the trophy in the 1980 Run for the Roses. She’s one of only three fillies to win the race along with Regret in 1915 and Winning Colors 1988.

6 / 13
Triple Crown Winners Next Race Horse Racing, Elmont, USA


Citation was the eighth Kentucky Derby horse to go on to win the Triple Crown, collecting that title in 1948. According to Louisville.com, this beauty, whose nickname was “The Big Cy” competed in 29 races as a three-year-old and won top honors in 27 of those competitions. Throughout his career, he made more than $1 million and was the first horse to do so.

7 / 13
Horse Racing - 31 Oct 2015
Pat Healy/Racing Fotos/Shutterstock


You know that whole saying the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree? Well Nyquist, who won the Kentucky Derby in 2016, is a fifth-generation descendant of Secretariat, according to Southern Living.

8 / 13

Gallant Fox

As far as Kentucky Derby horses go, Gallant Fox was the second to win a Triple Crown but he was the first for which the term “Triple Crown” was coined. According to Louisville.com, a New York Times’ writer came up with the now widely used title to describe Gallant Fox.

9 / 13
Triple Crown Horse Racing, LOUISVILLE, USA


There are some truly great sports rivalries out there, but rarely do we think of those as being between two animals. However Affirmed, a Florida-bred horse who went on to become a Triple Crown winner in 1978, had a true rival in Alydar, who finished a close second to him in all three races that year. According to the Kentucky Derby Museum, Affirmed was the first horse to win upwards of $2 million.

10 / 13
Kentucky Derby Horse Racing, Louisville, USA
Morry Gash/AP/Shutterstock

American Pharoah

After Affirmed nabbed a Triple Crown title in 1978, 37 years went by before another horse won the honor. That horse was American Pharaoh who set the Kentucky Derby ablaze with his Triple Crown win in 2015. But he didn’t do it alone. He had a buddy in a grey pony named Smokey, who traveled with him to each and every race, according to KentuckyDerby.com. Aww! These 17 stories of more animal friendships will melt your heart.

11 / 13
Al Behrman/AP/Shutterstock


Monarchos may not have received the same fanfare as other Kentucky Derby horses who won the coveted race (he grabbed the win in 2001) but he and Secretariat were the only ones to run it in under two minutes.

12 / 13

Sir Barton

In 1919 Sir Barton became the first horse to nab the honor of Triple Crown winner, only the term hadn’t been coined yet. An underrated horse, America’s Best Racing claims he was “grouchy and stubborn,” possibly due to a condition of tender hooves.

13 / 13
Spectacular Bid Kentucky Derby '79, Louisville, USA

Spectacular Bid

Some feel the 1979 Kentucky Derby winner’s career didn’t reach its full potential because of a mysterious controversy over an injury in which his hoof was injured by a safety pin. Because of the alleged pin puncture, his trainer Buddy Delp thought Spectacular Bid was thrown off his game. Read on for even more fascinating facts about the Kentucky Derby.