So many things about the Kentucky Derby can draw in even the most casual horse racing fan: the iconic twin spires of Churchill Downs, the signature mint juleps, the elaborate hats, the garland of roses.
And somewhere beneath the pomp and pageantry, there’s actually a race known as “The Greatest Two Minutes in Sports.”
But just as majestic as the spectacle are the stories that emerge, about the horses, the trainers, the owners, the jockeys, the insurmountable odds and the long-shot luck needed to overcome them.
Once the finery for winning is presented, the debate will begin. Will this horse be the first in now 35 years to earn the Triple Crown?
In preparation for the race and all its possibilities, here are the seven best Kentucky Derby cover stories from Sports Illustrated magazine.
1. May 11, 2009, “Miracle in the Mud”: Jockey Calvin Borel and Mine That Bird raced into Derby history with their come-from-behind win. With a three-length lead over the rest of the field, Mine That Bird notched the largest margin of victory in 60 years, beating the longest odds in 85 years to earn a place in the record books.
2. May 10, 2004, “Why Everybody Loves Smarty Jones”: The stars seemed to have aligned when Smarty Jones kept his unbeaten streak alive in the Derby during the 100th anniversary of the Triple Crown races. When he later won the Preakness Stakes, excitement built for the potential trifecta at the Belmont Stakes, but there he finished second to a long-shot contender.
3. May 12, 1980, “The Lady Is a Champ”: A number of covers acknowledged the Derby’s great moments throughout the ’70s, but Genuine Risk’s was another worthy performance near the end of that golden age of horse racing. She became only the second filly to win at Churchill Downs–the first was 65 years earlier–and the first ever to cash in during all three Triple Crown races.
4. May 14, 1979, “Simply Spectacular”: Spectacular Bid nearly lived up to his name, with record-setting performances and wins at both the Derby (over the son of the legendary Secretariat, General Assembly, no less) and the Preakness. But the 2-year-old champ’s Triple Crown bid fell short because of a freak accident at the Belmont Stakes.
5. May 15, 1978, “Rousing Run For the Roses”: With so many Triple Crown winners in his pedigree, including his great-great-grandfather War Admiral, perhaps it’s no surprise that Affirmed was destined to be a champion. Only 11 horses have accomplished his feat of winning the Triple Crown, and he is the last to have done so.
6. May 16, 1977, “The Derby”: Seattle Slew was an unlikely champion. Even at birth, he wasn’t expected to make history, and he was sold from his Kentucky home to a couple in Washington. But he proved his detractors wrong, becoming the 10th horse to win the Triple Crown and the only horse to have done so while undefeated.
7. May 10, 1976, “Cordero’s Bold Triumph”: Three-year-old superstar Bold Forbes had won multiple races before arriving in Louisville, where he wasn’t even put through trial runs on the day of the race or leading up to it–a break from the norm. He won the Derby, came oh so close at the Preakness and won the Belmont Stakes, ridden in each by accomplished Puerto Rican jockey Angel Cordero Jr.