The Super Bowl and the NCAA men’s basketball tournament are two annual sporting events fans look forward to, but let’s not forget about the Kentucky Derby. The thoroughbred horse race happens on the first Saturday in May every year. It’s the oldest continuously-held sporting event in the United States dating back to 1875, and people love it. They host parties with special recipes, and it’s a dream vacation for sports fanatics. Just like the Super Bowl or the NCAA tournament, the winner goes down in history. Any horse that wins the Kentucky Derby instantly becomes famous. These winners, however, did more than that. They’re the fastest Kentucky Derby winners in the long history of the race.
We based our list on the official results from the Kentucky Derby website. In the case of ties, we went from oldest to most current champion. We’ll see a horse whose blistering time stood for just two years (page 11) and a horse that won despite having the odds stacked against him (page 14). Now, let’s get out of the starting gate and start our race.
The first horse on our list is one of the newest champions. Nyquist topped the field of 20 horses to win the 1.25-mile race in 2:01.31. That’s fast, but we’re just scratching the surface of the fastest Kentucky Derby winners.
Next: This is as far back in time as we’ll go.
11. Iron Liege (TIE)
As the most prestigious horse race in America, the Kentucky Derby usually has lots of thoroughbreds in the field. Iron Liege beat out eight other horses to win in 1957, and he did so by setting a new record time.
Next: A Kentucky Derby winner with Illinois ties.
11. Lucky Debonair (TIE)
Dan and Ada Rice of Wheaton, Ill., bred Lucky Debonair at a farm near Lexington, Ky., and they must have had a magic touch. The horse was one of the fastest Kentucky Derby winners ever in 2:01.20.
Next: We’re positive this is one of the fastest times.
11. Affirmed (TIE)
We’re sure this is one of the fastest Kentucky Derby winners ever. You could say it’s Affirm-ative. This is one of just two horses on our list to win the Triple Crown by also winning the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. Affirmed won 14 races and more than $2.3 million in his career.
Next: This horse won two of the three Triple Crown races.
11. Thunder Gulch (TIE)
Thunder Gulch won two of the three Triple Crown races in 1995, starting with one of the fastest Kentucky Derby times we’ve ever seen. He also won the third leg, the Belmont Stakes, and he finished third in the Preakness.
Next: Bucking the odds
10. Funny Cide
Funny Cide entered the starting gates at the 2003 race with 13-1 odds. He got bumped early in the race, but he moved into the lead and held on for a close win over favorite Empire Maker to be one of the fastest Kentucky Derby winners in history.
Next: We’d say this was a successful career.
9. War Emblem
When you look at the numbers, it’s clear War Emblem enjoyed a successful racing career:
- Seven wins in 13 starts
- $3.49 million in winnings
- Four wins in 2002, including the first two legs of the Triple Crown.
With a 2:01.13 time, he is one of the fastest Kentucky Derby winners of all time.
Next: A horse that accomplished a lot in a short period of time.
7. Grindstone (TIE)
Grindstone packed a ton of accomplishments into a short period of time. He won the Louisiana Derby and placed second in the Arkansas Derby before becoming one of the fastest Kentucky Derby winners we’ve ever seen. Then he retired because of bone chips in his knee.
Next: A year to remember for this winner.
7. Fusaichi Pegasus (TIE)
Fusaichi Pegasus owned the year 2000. He won the San Felipe Stakes and two other lower-level stakes races before recording one of the fastest Kentucky Derby times in history. He won six times that year and finished second at the Preakness before retiring.
Next: Making a statement
6. Proud Clarion
He didn’t win another Triple Crown race, but Proud Clarion made a big statement at the 1967 Kentucky Derby. Sitting in the middle of the pack midway through the race, Proud Clarion closed fast and became one of the fastest Kentucky Derby winners ever. And at 30-1 odds, he was also one of the longest of long shots to win the race.
Next: This horse was briefly the fastest Derby winner ever.
Decidedly became the fastest Kentucky Derby winner ever with his 2:00.40 in 1962. As we will see in a minute, the record didn’t stand long, but it was impressive at the time. Also impressive? Decidedly was in 10th place a quarter mile into the race, but he battled back to win by about two lengths.
Next: One of the most dominant Kentucky Derby winners of all time.
4. Spend A Buck
That Spend A Buck remains one of the fastest Kentucky Derby winners of all time is impressive. He is also one of the most dominant winners in the race’s history. He jumped out to an early and wasn’t challenged at all the entire way. Fast and dominant — that’s a nice dual honor for Spend A Buck.
Next: The thoroughbred that dethroned No. 5 on our list.
3. Northern Dancer
Just two years after Decidedly, the No. 4 horse on our list, won in record time, Northern Dancer came along and became one of the fastest Kentucky Derby winners ever. He made a big move a mile into the race and crossed the line in two minutes flat, a record at the time. Northern Dancer took home $114,300 for the win, a large portion of the $490,000 he won in 1964.
Next: The next two horses own untouchable times.
Everything was stacked against Monarchos in the 2001 Kentucky Derby:
- He had a starting position well on the outside.
- Entered the race with modest 10-1 odds.
- He got bumped early in the race.
- The horse was nowhere near the lead halfway through the race.
But Monarchos had a finishing kick for the ages, swinging around the outside, taking the lead down the backstretch, and clocking a 1:59.97 time to be one of the fastest Kentucky Derby winners we’ve ever seen.
Next: The fastest we’ve ever seen.
When Hollywood makes a movie about your life, you know you’ve hit the big time. The movie about this famous thoroughbred contributed to a huge box office in October of 2010. Secretariat is the probably the most famous horse of all time, and with good reason. He’s the fastest Kentucky Derby winner in history at a blistering 1:59.40, and he won big in the Belmont Stakes on his way to being one of the few Triple Crown-winning horses.
This is where we give a shout out to Sham, the runner-up in the 1973 Kentucky Derby. Sham went stride-for-stride with Secretariat and almost surely cracked 2:00 in the race despite losing two teeth at the start.