Kentucky Derby Winners Bought and Bred, Handicapping, Best Bet
By Miriam Lee
Once again this year the Kentucky Derby will be run for a purse of $3 million, which means the winner will take home a minimum of $1.8 million. But before the group of 20 makes it to the starting gate, a significant financial investment has been made. Many have been purchased at the young horse auctions, or privately after beginning their racing careers, while others are bred by their owners, who paid stud fees – sometimes top dollar – to possess what they hope is the perfect Derby runner.
The last yearling sales purchase to win the Derby was Authentic last year. Co-owners SF Racing and Starlight Racing laid down $350,000 at Keeneland in 2018 for the son of leading sire Into Mischief. Before that, Triple Crown winner Justify brought $500,000 as a Keeneland September yearling. And the last 2-year-old in training sales purchase to win the Derby was 2016 winner Nyquist, who was sold for $400,000 at the Fasig-Tipton March sale.
The last private purchase to win the Derby was 2009 winner Mine That Bird and the last homebred to win the Derby was Country House in 2019. This year, 13 of the Derby probables were sold at public auction, six are homebreds and another appears to have been purchased privately with no auction history available.
The most expensive runner in the list of likely starters this year is King Fury, who was a $950,000 Fasig-Tipton August yearling at Saragoga in in 2019. Santa Anita Derby winner Rock Your World was an $650,000 Keeneland September yearling and Wood Memorial Stakes (G2) runner-up Dynamic One was a $750,000 Keeneland September yearling as well.
Fusaichi Pegasus remains the most expensive purchase in Derby history, having brought $4 million as a Keeneland July yearling in 1998 before winning the Derby almost two years later. By comparison, Venezuelan-raced Cannonero II was just $1,200 Keeneland September yearling in 1969, even with inflation making him the best bargain in Derby history.
Champions in the Derby
Each year since 1971, Eclipse Awards are given to the elite runners from each division, as well as to racing’s top owner, breeder and jockeys. The awards, which are named for foundation sire Eclipse, are voted on a three-body panel consisting of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA), the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association (NTWAB), and the Daily Racing Form (DRF). But even before the awards were known as Eclipses, championship honors were handed out via various polling entities.
And throughout history a total of 65 Kentucky Derby winners have been crowned champion 3-year-old, including last year’s winner Authentic.
Additionally, 79 juvenile champions made the gate for the Kentucky Derby with 21 wearing the garland of roses after crossing the finish line in front. The most recent 2-year-old champion to win the Derby was Nyquist in 2015. Last year, 2019 champion juvenile Storm The Court finished sixth and this year, last year’s 2-year-old Eclipse winner Elusive Quality will become the 80th juvenile champion to run in the Derby.
Every one but one of the 13 Triple Crown winners was crowned Horse of the Year, the only exception was Omaha in 1935. He lost the title to the 4-year-old Discovery, who won 11 of 19 starts that year, and defeated Omaha in that year’s Brooklyn Handicap.
Four Kentucky Derby winners are two-time Horse of the Year winners — Whirlaway (1941-42), Secretariat (1972-73), Affirmed (1978-79) and California Chrome (2014, ’16). A Kentucky Derby winner has been crowned Horse of the Year after its 3-year-old season ten times — Old Rosebud (1917), Exterminator (1922), Whirlaway (1942), Swaps (1956), Affirmed (1979), Spectacular Bid (1980), Ferdinand (1987), Alysheba (1988), California Chrome (2016) and Authentic (2020).
So far, 36 Kentucky Derby winners are members of racing’s Hall of Fame. Triple Crown winner American Pharoah is a member of this year’s Hall of Fame ballot in his first year of eligibility.