What does it mean for a horse’s place in racing history to win the Kentucky Derby? How important is it?

To bring facts to bear on these questions, consider how each Kentucky Derby winner has fared in winning Eclipse Awards since they were established in 1971. In order to win an Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year or Three-Year-Old Male (or Filly) of the Year, a Kentucky Derby winner has to win enough Grade I races afterwards to prove the Derby triumph was not a fluke.

In the 51-year history of Eclipse Awards, Kentucky Derby winning colts have been named champion Three-Year-Old Male 23 times and the two fillies to win the Derby (Genuine Risk and Winning Colors) were voted Three-Year-Old Fillies of the Year.  So 49% of the time, the Kentucky Derby winner was also named champion in its age/sex category.

Sixteen times Kentucky Derby winners have been Eclipse Award Horse of the Year, or 32% of the time. Secretariat, Affirmed, and California Chrome each won twice and Ferdinand and Alysheba won Horse of the Year as 4-year-olds rather than as 3-year-olds. Secretariat won the award for his 2-year-old and 3-year-old campaigns.

To summarize, based on over five decades of Eclipse Awards, nearly 50 percent of Kentucky Derby winners were voted either champion 3-year-old colt/gelding or filly. And close to a third of the time a Kentucky Derby winner was Horse of the Year.

Moreover, on ten occasions Horse of the Year was awarded to a colt or gelding that ran in the Kentucky Derby and lost. Thus 51% of the time, a Kentucky Derby starter was Horse of the Year,

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