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Secretariat at the Kentucky Derby: Revisiting start of record-breaking Triple Crown run, 50 years later

A new Kentucky Derby champion will be crowned at Churchill Downs on Saturday, as the 150th running of “the greatest two minutes in sports” captivates viewers. 

Even the winner will have a long way to go to meet the standard set by Secretariat in 1973. This year marks the 51st anniversary of the legendary Triple Crown run that entrenched the 3-year-old as one of the greatest racing horses in the sport’s history. 

The Kentucky Derby was the first leg of the Triple Crown for Secretariat, and his run stands as one of the most dominant performances in the race’s history. There have been a dozen other Triple Crown winners, but there is a reason Secretariat’s name remains the standard of excellence in horse racing. 

MORE: Horses, odds, expert picks & more for 2024 Kentucky Derby

The Sporting News takes a look back at Secretariat’s run to the Triple Crown, which started with a Kentucky Derby victory 51 years ago. 

Secretariat Kentucky Derby time

Secretariat instantly became a Triple Crown threat at the Kentucky Derby because of how dominant he was during the race. Secretariat finished the Derby in 1:59.40, setting a record that still stands 50 years later. He finished two-and-a-half lengths ahead of runner-up Sham. 

Believe it or not, the second-fastest mark in Kentucky Derby history actually belongs to Sham, who finished with a time of 1:59.90. The second-best run in the race’s history wasn’t enough to win because of how dominant Secretariat was. 

Monachos, who won in 2001 with a time of 1:59.97, is the only other horse to run the Kentucky Derby in under two minutes, though 1964 winner Northern Lights finished in exactly 2:00.00. 

MORE: All-time Kentucky Derby records

Secretariat at Preakness

The Kentucky Derby is far from Secretariat’s only record. He also still holds the record for the fastest finish at the Preakness Stakes, with a time of 1:53.00.

Swiss Skydiver gave the record a challenge in 2020 when he finished with a time of 1:53.28, but Secretariat’s dominance means he still has a grip on the record books 50 years later.

The win also put Secretariat one Belmont Stakes win away from the Triple Crown. 

Secretariat at Belmont

Another race, another record. Secretariat finished the Belmont Stakes in two minutes and 24 seconds, setting a record that still stands today.

In fact, no horse has given the record a serious challenge. Easy Goer came the closest to Secretariat when he ran the 1989 Belmont Stakes in 2:26, still a full two seconds off of the timeless record. 

Last year’s champion, Arcangelo, finished in more than two minutes and 29 seconds, a full five seconds behind Secretariat. Belmont was the race that won the Triple Crown for Secretariat, and he ran with a purpose, winning by a record 31 lengths.

MORE: Post positions & odds for the 2024 Kentucky Derby

Triple Crown winners

Secretariat had the most dominant Triple Crown run, setting record after record, but he’s still one of 13 horses to complete the feat. 

Secretariat broke a 25-year drought when he won in 1973, though American Pharoah would snap an even longer drought in 2015 when he became the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years. 

Here is a look at the full history of Triple Crown winners.

Year Winner Jockey Trainer
1919 Sir Barton Johnny Loftus H. Guy Bedwell
1930 Gallant Fox Earl Sande Jim Fitzsimmons
1935 Omaha Willie Saunders Jim Fitzsimmons
1937 War Admiral Charles Kurtsinger George Conway
1941 Whirlaway Eddie Arcaro Ben A. Jones
1943 Count Fleet Johnny Longden Don Cameron
1946 Assault Warren Mehrtens Max Hirsch
1948 Citation Eddie Arcaro Horace A. Jones
1973 Secretariat Ron Turcotte Lucien Laurin
1977 Seattle Slew Jean Cruguet William H. Turner, Jr.
1978 Affirmed Steve Cauthen Laz Barrera
2015 American Pharoah Victor Espinoza Bob Baffert
2018 Justify Mike Smith Bob Baffert

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