clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

What was the fastest time in Kentucky Derby history?

Despite all the advances in thoroughbred horse racing, one still stands above them all at Churchill Downs almost five decades later.

Jockey Ron Turcotte guides Secretariat toward the finish line to win the 1973 Kentucky Derby.  By Rich Nugent, The Courier-Journal, Louisville Courier Journal via Imagn Content Services, LLC

There isn’t much debate about who the greatest horse in the history of the Triple Crown is. Secretariat is still the standard by which all other American thoroughbred horses are judged, and his win in the 1973 Kentucky Derby remains one of the great runs in the history of the sport.

But perhaps the most amazing part of his record-setting win in 1:59 2/5, which is still the record nearly 50 years later, is that he only won by two lengths!

The second place horse at Churchill Downs that Saturday, Sham, actually ran the second-best time in the history of the Kentucky Derby. If Sham was a three-year-old in literally any other year in the 147-year history of the Run for the Roses, he would have been the winner with that time.

These were the only two horses to go under two minutes for the 1.25 miles of the Derby until 2001. That’s when Monarchos came from far off at the final turn, but stormed to victory by a whopping 4 3/4 in a sprint that has to be seen to be believed.

Despite Tom Durkin’s call of the race, the clock he saw was wrong, and the official time had Monarchos at 1:59:97. So while he didn’t tie or beat Big Red, he still got from chute-to-wire in under 120 seconds, and is just the third horse ever to do so.

It’s hard to imagine after watching that sprint, but Monarchos finished sixth in the Preakness, third in the Belmont where he was 13 lengths behind the leader, and then never raced again. In 10 career starts he won four races, just two Grade 1 stakes, and was retired to stud after the Belmont.