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Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated
Joy Russo

Photos: After Rich Strike’s Kentucky Derby Win, Other Memorable Finishes at Churchill Downs

Rich Strike gave us another exciting and unexpected Kentucky Derby chapter Saturday, outrunning race favorites Messier and Epicenter down the stretch to pull off the second-biggest upset in the Race for the Roses.

Rich Strike, an 80-1 long shot who only entered the field Friday as a last-minute replacement for Ethereal Road, paid off big—$163.60, $74.20 and $29.40 as the winner over favorite Epicenter, who brought in $7.40 and $5.20 for second, while early favorite Zandon paid $5.60 for show.

With another race in the books, we look back at some of the biggest moments from Churchill Downs as shot by Sports Illustrated:

1977: Seattle Slew

Neil Leifer/Sports Illustrated

Seattle Slew’s start to the Derby was a bit of a bumpy one, as he hit the gate and then slammed into another horse. Jockey Jean Cruguet helped the horse regain form en route to a 1-3/4-length victory. Seattle Slew went on to win the Triple Crown, the first horse to do so since Secretariat in 1973.

1978: Affirmed Takes First Step Toward Crown

Tony Triolo/Sports Illustrated

The race highlighted one of horse racing’s true rivalries between Affirmed and Alydar. In about a 16-month period spanning from 1977 to ’78, the two horses faced off 10 times, but their Triple Crown clashes added more drama to Affirmed’s run to history. At Churchill Downs, Affirmed edged Alydar by 1-1/2 lengths.

1965: A Smaller Field

Neil Leifer/Sports Illustrated

The Kentucky Derby field was limited to a 20-horse field limit in 1975, but most of the Derby races in the 1960s averaged just 12-13 participants. 

2004: Smarty Jones

Bill Frakes/Sports Illustrated

Jockey Stewart Elliott (center in blue polkadot silks) navigated Smarty Jones through the pack to win the 130th running of the Derby. Smarty Jones went on to win the Preakness, but fell short of the Triple Crown after finishing second in the Belmont Stakes.

1973: Secretariat

Neil Leifer/Sports Illustrated

Secretariat’s feat in 1973 will arguably go down as one of the biggest athletic feats in sports history. Just watch his beyond-dominating run at the Belmont Stakes if you don’t believe us. But before making history, Secretariat faced doubts going into Churchill Downs after finishing third in the Wood Memorial Stakes two weeks before the Derby. But jockey Ron Turcotte pushed the thoroughbred on the outside, and took the lead for good in the final furlong and won in a record time of 1:59-2/5.

2006: Barbaro

John Iacono/Sports Illustrated

Bill Frakes/Sports Illustrated

After stumbling out of the gate (see No. 8 in first photo), Barbaro blew past one of the most competitive fields in years to win the Derby by over 6-1/2 lengths. Sadly, Barbaro fractured his leg in the Preakness Stakes, and after many attempts and procedures to save the horse, he was euthanized the following year. His ashes are buried at Churchill Downs. 

1999: Charismatic

Simon Bruty/Sports Illustrated

An overhead shot of Charismatic (No. 11) riding down the final stretch en route to his Kentucky Derby win. After the D. Wayne Lukas-owned horse won the Preakness—again beating out Menifee in a rivalry that reminded many of the one between Affirmed and Alydar—Charismatic was looking to match Affirmed’s Triple Crown feat. 

Sadly, jockey Chris Antley slowed down and jumped off the horse in the final furlong after sensing something was wrong. Later, it was discovered that the horse had multiple fractures in its foreleg and experts would say Antley’s actions prevented Charismatic from further injury and saved the horse’s life. 

2009: Mine That Bird

Bill Frakes/Sports Illustrated

Before Rich Strike, there was Mind That Bird. With 50-1 starting odds in the 19-horse field, jockey Calvin Borel pushed Mind That Bird from dead last before the final turn to win by a shocking 6-3/4 lengths. 

2017: A Muddy Track

Laura Heald/Sports Illustrated

A wet, muddy or sloppy track can change everything in a race, playing to the strengths or weaknesses of any horse and forcing bettors to make some last-minute strategy changes. Seinfeld fans will remember this track tutorial

2015: American Pharoah 

Bill Frakes/Sports Illustrated

Jockey Victor Espinoza (powder blue and yellow silks) led American Pharoah to the finish, giving trainer Bob Baffert his fourth Derby win and first since 2002. Pharoah went on to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed after his wire-to-wire victory at the Belmont Stakes.

2019: Controversial Finish

Simon Bruty/Sports Illustrated

Maximum Security crossed the finish line first, but was later disqualified after judges found that he interfered with War of Will for placing along the final turn. Country House was elevated to the winner’s circle. It was the first time a Kentucky Derby winner was disqualified in the race’s history.

2020: Pandemic Silences Churchill Downs

Erick W. Rasco/Sports Illustrated

After moving the first of the Triple Crown races from its traditional early May spot to Sept. 5, 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, the race took place in front of a spectator-less crowd. Authentic, trained by Bob Baffert, was the winner.

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