The Greatest Kentucky Derby Winners Of All Time

There are few more entertaining races on the international calendar than the Kentucky Derby. The race has the power to stop the entire nation, with millions tuning in to see which three-year-old runner can take the next step in their story with success at Churchill Downs.

Throughout its history, the Kentucky Derby has played host to some of the special equine stars in history, with some capturing the imagination so much that new fans have been born into the sport. You can read more about the Derby’s history here:

But, who are some of the greatest winners of the race throughout its illustrious history?


It would be hard to start with any other horse than perhaps the one runner that is most synonymous with the Kentucky Derby. Secretariat won the 99th edition of the Kentucky Derby in 1973, and would later land the Triple Crown with success at the Belmont Stakes.

The legendary horse remains the record holder of the quickest time to compete the Kentucky Derby, while he also holds records for each of the other two Triple Crown races. There were perhaps few more dominant horses in the history of the sport than Secretariat and not many who can brag about having their life turned into a movie.

Seattle Slew

Seattle Slew was also one of the most dominant winners of the Kentucky Derby when he claimed victory in 1977. He later became only the tenth horse to complete the Triple Crown with success in the Belmont Stakes.

However, unlike previous runners that won all three races, Seattle Slew became the first to achieve the feat having come undefeated on all career starts. In fact, he won all but three of his career starts, with his first defeat coming just three weeks after the Belmont Stakes in the Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park.


One of the most-told stories in Kentucky Derby history centered around Affirmed and his rivalry with Alydar. Affirmed was the winner of the Kentucky Derby in 1978, and later become only the 12th horse to win the Triple Crown. Over his career, the legendary runner won a staggering 14 Grade 1s, including victories in the Hollywood Derby, Santa Anita Handicap, and Hollywood Gold Cup.

His record on track was staggering throughout his career, as he won 22 from 29 career starts, and only finished outside the top three on one occasion. Overall, Affirmed won $2.3 million in prize money over his three-year racing career.

Smarty Jones

Unlike the previous three horses on this list, Smarty Jones wasn’t able to win the Triple Crown. However, it wasn’t without a very close call. The three-year-old landed Kentucky Derby victory in 2004, before later adding the Preakness Stakes.

His victories in the first two Triple Crown races saw him become the first runner since Seattle Slew to win the opening two legs while defending a perfect career record. However, that 100% record came to an end at the Belmont Stakes, as he finished an extremely close second. It was also a major success for Stewart Elliott, who became the first jockey since 1979 to win the Derby on his debut effort.

American Pharoah

American Pharoah will go down as one of the best Kentucky Derby winners in recent history and he is still breeding potential competitors.

The runner for Bob Baffert landed the Derby back in 2015 after winning the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby. He later claimed victory in the Preakness Stakes, before he went wire-to-wire to become the first horse to win the Triple Crown since Affirmed in the Belmont Stakes.

American Pharoah then landed the Haskell Invitational, before finishing second in the Travers. Following a two-month break, the three-year-old returned to the track to become the first horse to win the Grand Slam by taking the Breeders’ Cup Classic by a staggering six and a half lengths.

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