The 10 Fastest Horses to Ever Race the Kentucky Derby

Written by Justin Zipprich
Updated: July 18, 2023
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If you’ve ever had the pleasure of going to the Kentucky Derby, then you know how amazing the experience can be. It’s so colorful and gorgeous and everyone is there to cheer on their favorite horses. Because of all the fanfare, the horses are ready and raring to go, and when the race starts, they streak down the track. Some of these contestants have really impressed over the years, so let’s look at some of the fastest horses to ever race the Kentucky Derby.

# 10. Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000. Time: 2:01.12

Though he is number 10 on this list, Fusaichi Pegasus is no slouch in the racing department, and he showed that by being one of the fastest horses to ever race the Kentucky Derby. In the year 2000, this fantastic horse just barely passed by second-place finisher War Emblem to win the race at record speed. Part of the credit goes to trainer Neil Drysdale, who knew exactly how to get the most out of his horse.

Fusaichi Pegasus was purchased by Japanese businessman Fusao Sekiguchi who could see the amazing potential, so he paid a whopping $4 million for the fantastic horse. The spectators were just as impressed with Fusaichi Pegasus and chose him as the favorite to win the race that year. He was the first favorite to actually win the race since way back in 1979.

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#9 Mandaloun at 2:01.10 and Medina Spirit at 2:01.02

Race horses with jockeys on the home straight. Shaving effect.

Horse racing had one of its many controversies with the Kentucky Derby that involved Mandaloun and Medina Spirit.

©Lukas Gojda/Shutterstock.com

The year 2021 was a very controversial year at the Kentucky Derby, and two horses are often mentioned in this spot. On the day of the race, Mediana Spirit won the race by having one of the fastest times at 2:01.02, and it was an epic win. The crowd was cheering. The horse was celebrated. That was until they found out that Medina Spirit had a positive test for the steroid betamethasone. Sadly, he passed away in 2021 after a workout at Santa Anita Park.

Because of the controversy, Medina Spirit was stripped of the title, and the new winner became Mandaloun. This was a very fast race, and Mandaloun also had an incredible time at 2:01.10. After this, Mandaloun ran a few other races, but his career was cut relatively short.

#8. Grindstone in 1996. Time: 2:01.06

Grindstone’s win back in 1996 was one of his last shining moments before an injury cut his epic journey short. It was only five days after this amazing victory that they discovered a bone chip in his knee. He turned out okay, but he had to retire early. He received another record of being the first horse since 1926 to have to retire almost immediately after he edged out a victory over 7-2 favorite Unbridled’s Song, in the Kentucky Derby. 

During the extent of his exciting but short-lived career, Grindstone won three out of his six starts under the incredible leadership of trainer Darrell Wayne Lukas.

#7. Authentic in 2020 Time: 2:00:61

The next of the fastest horses to ever race the Kentucky Derby is Authentic, an awesome horse that took the crown back in 2020. It was during the COVID-19 pandemic, in front of a masked crowd, where Authentic raced and won at an incredible time of 2:00:61. Authentic barely squeaked by, beating the second-place finisher by just 1 1/4 lengths, and he provided jockey John Velazquez his third Derby win. The horse trainer, Bob Baffert continued his long and lustrous career after this race while winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic and setting a track record there of 1:59.60.

#6. Proud Clarion in 1967. Time: 2:00.60

Back in 1967, Proud Clarion became another of the fastest horses to ever race the Kentucky Derby at just over two minutes. This horse was a major underdog if there ever was one, with odds of 30 to one. A bet on this horse would have won you big bucks. Proud Clarion also set a track record at Roamer Handicap, which he finished in 1:55 flat. Over the span of the horse’s career, he brought in $218,730 in earnings.

#5. Decidedly in 1962. Time: 2:00.40

Just barely passing Proud Clarion is Decidedly, a dashing horse who took the crown earlier in 1962. The amazing jockey was Bill Hartack, who won three Kentucky Derbies. However, after this claim to fame, Proud Clarion failed to place in either the Preakness or Belmont Stakes. As an extra fun fact, this awesome horse is only one of eight gray horses to ever win the big event.

#4. Spend a Buck in 1985. Time: 2:00.20

Despite the cute name, this amazing horse really turned heads after winning the Kentucky Derby in 1985. Under the direction of trainer Cam Gambolati, Spend a Buck beat all odds and reached the finish line at this break-neck speed. After the Kentucky Derby, the owner chose to skip racing in both the Preakness and Belmont because he had his eyes on a larger prize: a $2 million dollar bonus at the Jersey Derby. All in all, Spend a Buck went on to retire with a record of 15-10-3-2.

#3. Northern Dancer in 1964. Time: 2:00.00

You can’t talk about the fastest horses to ever race the Kentucky Derby without mentioning the epic story of Northern Dancer way back in 1964. This amazing Canadian-born horse that was trained by Horatio Luro literally came in at two minutes on the dot. Before the race, Northern Dancer wasn’t chosen as the favorite but instead was a second favorite behind another awesome horse: Hill Rise. Northern Dancer went on to win the Preakness at a time of 1:56.

#2. Monarchos in 2001. Time: 1:59.97

The number two horse, Monarchos, was so close to having the record, but alas, the incredible time of 1:59.97 was only enough to get second place on this list. Still, it’s an incredible story. While the race was happening, Monarchos fell all the way back to 13th place and had to fight his way back up the ranks before winning by a 4 3/4 lengths lead and beating out second-place finisher Invisible Ink.

#1 Secretariat in 1973. Time: 1:59.4

Secretariat Horse Statue at the Kentucky Horse Park

As one of the most famous horses in history, we continue to celebrate Secretariat to this day.

©Jill Lang/Shutterstock.com

The ultimate of the fastest horses to ever race the Kentucky Derby is none other than the famous Secretariat, who won the race in 1973 at a record time of 1:59 2/5. It’s hard to believe that a horse could do it in under two minutes, but Secretariat is one out of only two to beat the odds. The horse, which was trained by Lucien Laurin, came into the race as the favorite and didn’t disappoint. In fact, he beat second-place finisher, Claiborne Farm’s Sham, by 2 1/2 lengths. 

We should give Sham a bit of credit. During that race, Sham’s time can be be estimated between 1:59.74 and 1:59.93, which could technically make him the second fastest horse to race in Kentucky Derby history. However, on this list, we’re focusing on the horses that won the famous race.

The funny thing is that many experts doubted Secretariat’s ability to win the race at all after coming in third at Wood Memorial Stakes prior to this event. However, this amazing horse impressed and solidified his place in Derby history. 

The Secretariat’s record continues to stand until this day. Plus, he also holds the fastest records at both the Belmont Stakes and Preakness Stakes as well. 

Conclusion

As you can see, many amazing specimens have had the notoriety of being the fastest horses to ever race the Kentucky Derby. While there are some controversies here and there, these horses continue to be remembered for their awesome feats. Only time will tell if these incredible records will be broken, but stay tuned as the magic of the Kentucky Derby will likely be around for years to come.

Summary of The 10 Fastest Horses to Ever Race the Kentucky Derby

RankHorseRecord TimeYear
1Secretariat1:59.41973
2Monarchos1:59.972001
3Northern Dancer2:00.001964
4Spend a Buck2:00.201985
5Decidedly2:00.401962
6Proud Clarion2:00.601967
7Authentic2:00:612020
8Grindstone2:01.061996
9 *Mandaloun2:01.102021
9*Medina Spirit2:01.022021
10Fusaichi Pegasus2:01.122000
*Tied in 2021

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Cheryl Ann Quigley/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Justin Zipprich is a writer at A-Z Animals, where his primary focus is travel, state facts, pets, and mammals. Justin has been writing and editing animal content for over 7 years, though he holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Instructional Technology from Western Illinois University, which he earned in 2005. As a resident of Texas, he loves discovering local animals and spending time with his wife and two kids.

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