The 1963 Kentucky Derby promised to be one of the greatest battles in the race’s history. The field featured a record setting champion two-year-old, two undefeated racehorses and a headstrong outsider with a wealth of seemingly untapped talent. One of the greatest aspects of horse racing is its rich history, so in the spirit of nostalgia let us revisit the 1963 Kentucky Derby.
The champion two-year-old of 1962 was a flashy young Adonis named Never Bend. In his two-year-old season, Never Bend won seven of ten races and earned a record $402,969. His trainer, Woody Stephens, was bringing him along on a tight schedule and strict training regime to ensure the colt was in peak condition on Kentucky Derby day. His first major race as a three-year-old was the 9 furlong Flamingo, which he dominated by five lengths in the swift time of 1:49 2/5. His final Derby prep was the Stepping Stone at Churchill Downs, where he put on a clinic winning with ease in a blazing 1:22 2/5, just two-fifths of a second off the course record.
By then turf writers in support of Never Bend had exhausted all of their superlatives for him. In their minds he was the horse to beat in Louisville, however, other contingents still had something to say about the matter.
The charismatic and undefeated west coast super star Candy Spots earned his name thanks to the white splotches covering his hindquarters, which were visually described “as if someone hit him with a handful of marshmallows”. He won the Santa Anita Derby (his first major three-year-old race) and then shipped off to Gulfstream Park, where he took the Florida Derby with devastating ease by 4 1/2 lengths. He went straight to Churchill Downs for the remainder of his training up to the Kentucky Derby, and was tapped as the early favorite and almost universally held as the horse to beat.
There was a perceived east coast/west coast rivalry brewing between Candy Spots and Never Bend, and the racing world was beginning to see the Kentucky Derby as a two horse affair, but an undefeated colt was about to throw his hat into the ring and let it be known that the Derby was still up for grabs.