With the post position draw out, we are now smack in the middle of Derby week. As a native Kentuckian, I can attest that it is one of the most wonderful times of the year. To commemorate, we will use Lawson’s eleven to rank the best Derby winners since 1981. Why start with Pleasant Colony’s victory. That’s easy, because it was the first one I saw in real-time with my own two eyes. At least it’s the first one I remember.
When I rank things that are purely based on my opinion, I like to keep it to moments I experienced personally. Plus without any triple crown winners topping the list, it makes it more fun to debate. Who needs another list that says Secretariat is number one.
Before anyone throws any stats my way. This isn’t about who had the best Derby, so their time that day is only one factor. It’s not about who had the best career, because I don’t want to penalize horses for injury or early retirement due to impatient owners cashing in on the stud fee. It’s just about which horses I would take if your threw all 29 winners since 1981 on a track and said have at it.
LAWSON’S ELEVEN BEST DERBY WINNERS
11. Real Quiet 1998
No horse has come closer to the Triple Crown in the last 31 years than this colt did.
10. Fusaichi Pegasus 2000
9. Unbridled 1990
8. Monarchos 2001
I know I said that the time they ran was only a small factor, but when you cross the line in under 2 minutes that has to be recognized. Just so you know, only Secretariat ran faster in 135 years.
7. Barbaro 2006
6. Thunder Gulch 1995
5. Alysheba 1987
4. Spend A Buck 1985
This horse sometimes is forgotten, because he wasn’t run in the Preakness or Belmont; but when he did run, he usually won. And since it’s my list, he is helped tremendously by the fact that he was foaled on a farm in Daviess County, KY partially owned by my Grandparents.
3. Silver Charm 1997
2. Smarty Jones 2004
If his owners had not retired him after Belmont, he would have been the biggest boost to racing in a generation.
1. Sunday Silence 1989
The stopwatch gawkers will mention that he only ran a 2:05 Derby, but I’ll take my chances with this Derby, Preakness, and BC Classic winner. In 14 races over three years he finished no worse than second. In my list, he gets another victory.