Visiting with Past Kentucky Derby Winners

Courtesy of Esther Marr

Last month I was presented with the opportunity to host a series of videos featuring all the past Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winners still residing in Kentucky. As a staff writer who has never considered a career in television, I was nervous at first about being on camera, but in the end, it seemed like it would be well worth it to gain the experience of completing a project like this.

I will never forget the experience of being able to see, hear, and sometimes even touch these magnificent creatures that have accomplished such amazing feats, and, in a way, have provided me with a career.

Since I have only been around the Thoroughbred industry for four years, I had never seen the Derby performances of some of the horses I would be visiting, so I made sure to watch each of their races on Youtube before traveling to their respective farms.

It was almost surreal to view those races, and then see the horses in person, all the while thinking, "Do you have any idea how amazing you are?"

Some of the past Derby winners I met, such as Thunder Gulch, Fusaichi Pegasus, and Grindstone seemed content, peaceful, and stoic as they went about their daily routines.

Funny Cide, who won the Derby in 2003, had a bit of an attitude as he continuously tried to nip his handler, Cathy Roby, the barn manager at the Kentucky Horse Park's Hall of Champions.

Not surprisingly, Smarty Jones drew a large crowd of tourists at Three Chimneys who stood in awe of the 2004 Derby and Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner. Five years after his stellar racing career had ended, there were still "oohs and ahhs" as he was paraded around a walking ring and thousands of camera shutters snapped.

Smarty seemed unfazed by all the attention, as I'm sure he's used to being gawked at during Three Chimneys' daily tours.

Street Sense looked every bit as beautiful as he did running on the track during his greatest performances in the 2006 Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I), and 2007 Derby and Travers Stakes. His sleek, dark coat shone in the sunshine as he was walked back and forth on the lush grounds of Darley USA near Lexington.

Another farm that blew me away was Adena Springs near Paris, Ky., where 2005 Derby winner Giacomo resides.

 The main office looks like the combination of a barn and an elaborate mansion, with the breeding shed connected to the back of the massive building. We were greeted by stallion manager Bill Drury, who led us to the back of the office and opened a sliding door that led directly into the breeding shed, where El Prado was covering a mare.

Giacomo was then led out and released into his paddock, where he immediately zipped around with such vigor, that at times I was worried he was going to take a bad step and crash into the fence. But he knew his area so well and had memorized all the corners of his paddock that he could make turns at top speeds without missing a beat. With his tail flagged like an Arabian, the gray son of Holy Bull certainly put on quite a routine, and I was in awe.

Other horses that delivered flashy performances for us in their paddocks were 2001 Derby winner Monarchos and last year's winner, Big Brown. Monarchos seemed to be king of Nuckols Farm as he galloped freely around his paddock, which overlooks one of the highest points of Central Kentucky. A gentle giant, he is the only stallion I have ever fed a peppermint out of my hand.

At Three Chimneys, Big Brown tried (without success) to engage his next-door-neighbor Rahy in a racing game up and down the length of his paddock, his hoofs thundering across the soft turf. With a powerful demeanor and seemingly endless energy, he rolled in the grass, kicked up his heels, and repeatedly reared on his hind legs to display his colossal form. It was quite a show.

Looking back over this experience, I was richly rewarded by seeing each of these nine horses in person, and feel privileged to have had the opportunity to introduce them to their fans as they are today.

[brightcove videoid="20939712001"]

1995 Kentucky Derby Winner - Thunder Gulch
1996 Kentucky Derby Winner - Grindstone (Featured Above)
2000 Kentucky Derby Winner - Fusaichi Pegasus
2001 Kentucky Derby Winner - Monarchos
2002 Kentucky Derby Winner - Funny Cide

A new video will be posted each day so check back often!

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