Top 5 Fails in Kentucky Derby History

These champion racehorses seemed like a lock for the Derby win… until they picked the most important race of their life to run their worst race ever. Heather Benson counts ‘em down.

The Kentucky Derby hype machine is at a fever pitch and everyone has their pick to win the big race.

But much like meteorologists predicting the weather, predicting a horse’s performance is a crapshoot at best. Hype tends to slam into reality on the first Saturday in May and one bad day at the track can mean the difference between destiny and destitution.

And so we present some of the biggest fails in Kentucky Derby history:

#5: Himyar — 1878 Kentucky Derby

Sure, it was 1878 and the Kentucky Derby wasn’t even a big deal yet, but Himyar still managed to catch the attention of the nation after a series of scintillating wins at age 2. He went into the Derby as the shortest priced favorite (1-4 odds) in history and lost by two lengths to Day Star. He did make up for in a way, by siring 1898 Kentucky Derby winner Plaudit.

Himyar. Photo courtesy of thevaulthorseracing.com.

Himyar. Photo courtesy of thevaulthorseracing.com.

#4: Native Dancer — 1953 Kentucky Derby

The “Grey Ghost” was undefeated in nine races at age 2 and crowned Champion 2-Year-Old Colt in 1953, with many viewing him as the Horse of the Year as well. He was just as sparkling at 3 and went into the Kentucky Derby still undefeated. As it happened, that Derby would be the only race he ever lost after being fouled twice during the race and losing by a narrow margin to victor Dark Star.

Native Dancer. Photo courtesy of thevaulthorseracing.com.

Native Dancer. Photo courtesy of thevaulthorseracing.com.

#3: Arazi — 1992 Kentucky Derby

During the 1991 Breeder’s Cup Juvenile, held that year at Churchill Downs, Arazi had put on a performance that made him look like the second coming of Secretariat. Shipped back to his native France to condition for the following year’s American classic, he underwent a minor surgery and never again showed the same sparkle, despite the public still favoring overwhelming to win. He placed 8th behind Lil E Tee.

Holy Bull. Photo courtesy of whitehorseproductions.com.

Holy Bull. Photo courtesy of whitehorseproductions.com.

#1. Friesan Fire — 2009 Kentucky Derby

He may not have the household name status as some of the other Derby fails, but his Derby failure wasn’t pretty. After wins in the entire 3-year-old stakes series at the Fairgrounds Race Course, including the Grade I Louisiana Derby, he was on the board as the Derby favorite. Not only did he manage to lose and place nearly last, he lost to 50-1 longshot Mine That Bird. Double fail!


Friesan Fire. Photo courtesy of bloodhorse.com.

Go Riding.