Stroll Down Kentucky Derby Memory Lane with ABR

Horses race past the finish line for the first time in the 2014 Kentucky Derby. (Eclipse Sportswire)

With the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve fast approaching, the America’s Best Racing staff offers its favorite editions of the first jewel of the Triple Crown for a short jaunt down memory lane.

Melissa Bauer-Herzog — 2007 Kentucky Derby

If you know me, you know that the 2007 3-year-old crop is the one I compare every other 3-year-old class with, so it shouldn’t be any surprise that that year’s Derby was my favorite, even though my horse didn’t win the roses as the end of the day.

I was all in on Hard Spun that year but was also a fan of Street Sense, so it worked out nearly perfectly for me. Hard Spun led nearly all the way and I thought that “my horse” was home free as they came around the turn until I saw those blue and yellow silks break out of the pack as they turned into the stretch. While Street Sense passed, then pulled away from Hard Spun, there have been very few times that I’ve been as proud of a horse for finishing second as I was of Hard Spun.

Mike Curry — 2006 Kentucky Derby

When I moved to Kentucky in 2005, I came from a small paper in Maryland right down the road from Fair Hill Training Center. Because of that, I knew a few of the Fair Hill trainers and was always quite partial to Fair Hill-based runners. So, it goes without saying that I watched every Barbaro race as a 2-year-old with tremendous interest. I pitched a feature before his Holy Bull Stakes win on his owners-breeders, Roy and Gretchen Jackson, to my then-employer, Thoroughbred Times, and had my first feature story in the magazine on Barbaro and the Jacksons.

Trainer Michael Matz let me come out to visit Barbaro at Keeneland leading up to the 2006 Kentucky Derby and the Dynaformer colt looked chiseled out of granite, a beast of a racehorse. I was also fortunate enough to develop a relationship with his exercise rider, Peter Brette, who was a great quote and wonderful to chat with, and when I saw Brette during Derby week in Louisville, he looked like the cat who swallowed the canary. Confident, would be an understatement. Even the Jacksons, who were typically pretty reserved when it came to expectations, were already talking about potentially running Barbaro in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. I told everyone I knew Barbaro was going to win the 2006 Derby, so when he delivered a tour de force on the first Saturday in May it was incredibly emotional. I still get goosebumps when Tom Durkin calls it, "a sublime performance."

Things obviously took an incredibly tragic turn two weeks later in the Preakness, but I’m grateful that I had a chance to spend some time around this magnificent horse and eternally thankful to his connections for allowing me access to the best racehorse I’ve ever been around.

Penelope Miller — 1989 Kentucky Derby

Each Kentucky Derby has something iconic about it; but if I had to choose a favorite, it would have to be when Sunday Silence won in 1989. I was really little, but there was something about that big, bold horse and his subsequent battles with rival Easy Goer in the Preakness, Belmont Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Classic that completely captured my imagination. It was the first Kentucky Derby that I remember really paying attention to, and it kindled in me a lifelong obsession with the run for the roses.

Christina Moore — 2014 Kentucky Derby

I was fortunate enough to attend the 2014 Kentucky Derby in person, and I also happened to be a fan of a certain flashy California-bred ever since he romped in the final stakes race at Hollywood Park in December 2013. Though I am not normally one to back the favorite in the Derby, I was thrilled when California Chrome galloped to win the race by 1 3/4 lengths in front of my own eyes. Seeing Chrome win in my first in-person Derby was one of my personal favorite moments in the sport and my favorite edition of the run for the roses.

Patrick Reed — 2009 Kentucky Derby

Looking back at the past 15 years or so, I’d have to say that the 2007 Kentucky Derby produced the best group of racehorses (Street Sense, Hard Spun, Curlin – what a trifecta!), the 2004 and 2015 editions showcased the best winners (Smarty Jones and American Pharoah), and the 2006 Kentucky Derby has the most emotional resonance for fans of Thoroughbred racing (the late, great Barbaro). 

On the other hand, what makes the Kentucky Derby so exciting from a fan’s perspective – and if you’re shrewd and lucky enough, a bettor’s perspective – is the chance to witness something happen that’s totally unexpected. Such was the case in 2009, when a sloppy track, a spunky gelding, and the skill of a hometown rider combined to produce an upset so momentous they made a movie about it.

Did I have Mine That Bird anywhere on my tickets? Hell no, I didn’t. By the time I identified the small horse skimming through the sludge past the sixteenth pole (right about the time an astounded Tom Durkin did), I had resigned my handicapping efforts to the dustbin of history and was already enjoying the outcome of one of the most head-scratching, jaw-dropping Kentucky Derbys in history.

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