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Derby Underdogs... or Underhorses?

Written by: Guest   |   July 7, 2022


By: Gracie Wagner, AFIA's communications intern

If I had to guess, I would say that most people have heard about this year’s astounding Kentucky Derby win. Supposing that you haven’t heard, I can summarize it for you: Rich Strike, who entered the derby due to a late scratch with 80-1 odds, blew past the rest of the pack to secure an almost unforeseeable win in May. While this is the most recent derby underdog win, this is only one of many in the horse race’s history. Although I am certainly not old enough to have seen all these runs in person, here are my top three Kentucky Derby underdog wins.


Even though he is not exactly a derby underdog, some racing fans doubted Secretariat's chances to bring home the roses following a third-place finish at the Wood Memorial Stakes two weeks earlier. His exciting come-from-behind win of the 1973 Kentucky Derby, was followed by wins in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, making him a Triple Crown winner.... the first in 25 years. It should also be noted that he won the Belmont stakes by 31 lengths, which is extraordinary! You can also check out the movie “Secretariat,“ which streams on Disney+.


In 1913, Donerail upset the field with a win despite his 91-1 odds. With multiple lead changes, alternating between prevailing front legs, throughout the run, Donerail managed to pull ahead and win the race by only a half-length. He is the longest odds winner in derby history and one of few Derby winners to be bred, owned and trained by the same person.

Mine That Bird

When the 2009 Kentucky Derby began, Mine That Bird was so far behind the rest of the field, that even the race announcer missed seeing him. But as he came around the last turn, he made his way through the 19 other horses to overtake and win the race by six lengths. He won with 50-1 odds, and a movie, "50-1," based on his road to the Kentucky Derby and his underdog
victory, was released five years after his win.

The derby is often hailed as the most exciting two minutes in sports. Long-shot heroes and come-from-behind winners sure seem to confirm the derby as the performance stage of the underdog, or underhorse.

Fueling The Winners Fun Fact:

The best and most important fuels for a racehorse are fat and glycogen, particularly because muscle glycogen is the main fuel used during a race. Therefore, diets high in fat, protein, fiber and starch are appropriate for high-performance racehorses and they can obtain most of these nutritional elements from a combination of forage (i.e., grass and hay) and grains (e.g.,  oats, corn and barley).

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