Kentucky Derby

Top 5 Kentucky Derby Winners of the 2000’s

Victor Espinoza, aboard American Pharoah, looks back after crossing the finish line to win the Belmont Stakes in Elmont, New York.  American Pharoah becomes the 12th Triple Crown winner.
June 6, 2015
Michael Clevenger/Louisville Courier-Journal

This was so tough, but I wanted to keep the list at five.  So many great memories came back to life when making this list as it became my favorite article of all-time by the time it was done.  I’m sure there will be plenty of debate over this list so let me take a second to mention the horses I almost included: Big Brown, War Emblem, Funny Cide, and Street Sense all were all horses that I strongly considered putting on the list but in the end I landed on these five horses.

1. American Pharoah (2015)

I don’t want to hear any debate on this one.  American Pharoah blazed a path through history in becoming the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years, as well as winning the Breeders Cup Classic to round out his career.  He turned what was only a legend to my generation of fans into a reality.  Looking back now he was able to win the Kentucky Derby without running his best race which is something that should not be over looked.

2. Smarty Jones (2004)

He was “America’s Horse” with an owner you wanted to root for, and an underdog story that everyone could get behind.  He was fantastic in winning the Kentucky Derby, and even better in the Preakness Stakes two weeks later.  In the Belmont he wan a winning race, but was just ran down by Birdstone who was primed and ready for a big effort that day.  The Belmont Stakes was the only loss of his career, but sadly that was the last race he was entered in as injury struck and his career was shortened.

3. California Chrome (2014)

I’m shocked that it has turned out this way, but lets face it this horse deserves a tremendous amount of credit.  At the time I did not believe California Chrome was all that great, and even through his four year old year I was still skeptical.  However, that is not the case anymore.  California Chrome is now the richest race horse in North American history, and could be on his way to becoming the richest race horse in world history!  Were some I left off this list more talented than California Chrome?  Perhaps…but when it comes to resumes he can match up with any horse, and that resume isn’t complete yet.

4. I’ll Have Another (2012)

If only he had stayed healthy I believe he would have been the 12th Triple Crown Winner in racing history.  Instead injury forced him to retire just days before the Belmont Stakes, and we’ll never know what would have happened.  Still, his accomplishments are enough to land him on this list.  He won from the 19 hole in the Kentucky Derby which had never been done before, and in the Preakness he ran down a loose on the lead Bodemeister which is still one of the best performances I’ve ever seen.

5. Barbaro (2006)

Going into what was labeled a “wide open” Kentucky Derby the undefeated Barbaro took the lead on the turn and won the race to win by six and a half lengths.  His stylish win had the horse racing world raving of what could happen next, but sadly it all ended in the Preakness Stakes when he fractured three bones in and around the fetlock of his right hind leg.  Complications with the injury eventually cost him his life leaving us all to wonder what might have been with this fantastic horse.


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