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The Ladies Speak Up at the Kentucky Derby

Added on: March 25, 2013

The Kentucky Derby is the most prestigious horse race in the United States, and it is most definitely the showcase event for three-year-olds. Throughout its history - and it goes all the way back to 1875 - it has mostly been the province of the male. There have been many great fillies throughout the years, but the fact is, only three of them have ever won the Derby.

To find that first female winner, you have to go all the way back to 1915, when Regret took home the victory. This was a special gal, New Jersey-bred and a winner of some of the more important races at Saratoga for two-year-olds the year before. Interestingly enough, coming on her heels was another filly who actually won the Preakness that year, Rhine Maiden.

It would be many years before the ladies struck gold again. In 1980 the chestnut mare Genuine Risk won the Derby, and is generally considered to be the filly who put forth the best performance in the Triple Crown races. That is because Genuine Risk finished second in both the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes, and no other female has hit the board in all three of those. Naturally she won the Eclipse Award as the three-year-old champion filly in 1980. Later on, she was bred with Secretariat, who many consider to be the finest racehorse ever, but their union did not produce champions.

In 1988 Winning Colors came along and blew away the field at the Santa Anita Derby, a key prep race for Churchill downs, winning by seven and a half lengths. In a highly competitive field, she shot to the front and won the Kentucky Derby by a neck over Forty Niner. As usual, there was talk about Triple Crown possibilities, but Winning Colors, trained by D. Wayne Lukas, could only manage third place in the Preakness Stakes and failed to run in the money in the Belmont.

There have been a lot of great fillies who have never run in the Kentucky Derby. One of them was Ruffian, who won the Triple Tiara (the female equivalent of the Triple Crown) as a three-year-old, then was matched up with the 1975 Derby winner, Foolish Pleasure, in a match race. Unfortunately, Ruffian broke her leg and did not respond favorably to surgery. She had to be euthanized, thus ending a great chapter in racing history.