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Who are the fastest horses to ever compete in the Kentucky derby?

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Kentucky Derby
Kentucky Derby. Photo/Jerry Lewis
  • The Kentucky Derby features the best of the best of America’s three-year-old Thoroughbred
  • An average American citizen no longer follows horse racing closely
  • But Kentucky Derby is still a familiar name to forget

The Kentucky Derby features the best of the best of America’s three-year-old Thoroughbreds. The list of winners of the “Run for the Roses” is like a “Who’s Who” of American racing, and while the average American citizen no longer follows horse racing closely in the day-to-day, they still recognize the name “Kentucky Derby.”

Among these racing greats, who shines as the fastest of the fast? Here are the speed records to inspire you if you are thinking of betting on the 2023 Kentucky Derby.

Fastest Opening Quarter – :21.78, Summer Is Tomorrow (2022)

The fastest opening quarter was set only last year, when Grade II UAE Derby runner-up Summer is Tomorrow set a torrid pace, half a length in front of his stablemate Crown Pride, winner of the aforementioned UAE Derby.

The sizzling pace tired both horses, who finished thirteenth and twentieth respectively, as well as any horse who attempted to run with them through the first half of the race. Deep closing long shot Rich Strike eventually won the race, and Summer is Tomorrow has not started since.

Horse racing

American Horse racing. Photo/Unsplash

Fastest Opening Half Mile/Fastest Six Furlongs- :44.86 and 1:09.25, Songandaprayer (2001)

The Churchill Downs track was absolutely rock-solid fast for the 2001 Kentucky Derby, which allowed free-running speedster Songandaprayer to set the record not only for the first half-mile, but also the first six furlongs (¾ mile). Songandaprayer did have some success in route races- he won the Fountain of Youth Stakes (then a Grade I) at 1 1/16th miles- but he was unable to keep up his Derby pace and finished thirteenth. He raced only once more, finishing third in the Grade III Jersey Shore Breeders’ Cup Stakes.

Fastest Mile – 1:34.80, Spend a Buck (1985)

Spend a Buck was expected to duel for the early lead with Grade I Wood Memorial winner Eternal Prince, but the latter horse broke poorly, leaving Spend a Buck alone on the lead. Spend a Buck, who prepped for the Kentucky Derby by winning the Cherry Hill Mile and the Garden State Stakes, rocketed to the front at the start of the Derby and never looked back.

His final time for the race, 2:00.20, is still the third-fastest Derby on record. Spend a Buck bucked Triple Crown tradition by skipping the Preakness in favor of the Grade III Jersey Derby (which offered him a sizable bonus for winning), and finished his career with a second in the Grade II Haskell Stakes and a win in the Grade I Monmouth Handicap.

Danny horse racing

Horse racing. Photo/Unsplash

Fastest 1 ¼ miles – 1:59.40, Secretariat (1973)

Big Red’s performance in the Kentucky Derby is the stuff of legends. Some may have doubted him- his sire was Bold Ruler, who excelled at shorter distances, and he had inexplicably lost his last start before the Derby- but Secretariat silenced the naysayers with a dramatic last-to-first run. Secretariat went on to win the Preakness, in which he was only awarded the stakes record decades later due to a timer malfunction, and he decimated his Belmont Stakes opposition by 31 lengths.

Fastest 1 ½ miles – 2:34.50, Spokane (1889)

Although the modern Kentucky Derby is 1 ¼ miles, from 1875 until 1896 the race was run at 1 ½ miles. The fastest edition at that distance occurred in 1889, when Spokane, the only Kentucky Derby winner ever based in Montana (which, at the time of Spokane’s 1886 birth, had not yet attained statehood), won over favoured Proctor Knott. Spokane also won the American Derby and the Clark Handicap, two important races at the time, but he lost his next four races and eventually faded into obscurity.

Teresa is a journalist with years of experience in creating web content. She is a wanderlust at heart, but an outgoing sports writer with focus on tennis, athletics, football, motorsports and NBA.

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