When we think about the greatest Kentucky Derby fields of all time (at least in the post-World War II era), often leading the list is the 1957 edition that included three future Hall of Fame inductees (Bold Ruler, Gallant Man, and Round Table) among the nine-horse field. Ironically, all three finished behind upset winner Iron Liege.
Others near the top of the list are those that involved battles between two future Hall of Famers: Swaps vs. Nashua in 1955, Majestic Prince vs. Arts and Letters in 1969, Affirmed vs. Alydar in 1978, and Sunday Silence vs. Easy Goer in 1989.
Aside from such top-heavy renewals, what Derbies had the deepest fields? It’s a subjective determination, of course, but these renewals certainly boasted an interesting collection of talent even if some weren’t necessarily Derby material:
The presence of Secretariat and Forego alone account for five consecutive Horse of the Year titles (1972-76), not to mention all of the divisional championships each won (Secretariat 3, Forego 5). Sham surely would have been the star if not for being foaled the same year as “Big Red,” and that year’s champion sprinter, Shecky Greene, was also among the field of 13.
Swale won the Derby and Belmont (G1) before his tragic, premature death soon after the latter race. The erratic and colorful Gate Dancer would win the Preakness (G1) and nearly missed winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) on two occasions. Farther up the track were three more past and future Eclipse Award winners: Althea, the 1983 juvenile filly champion; Life’s Magic, the champion filly at ages three and four; and Vanlandingham, the champion older male of 1985.
Horse of the Year Spend a Buck romped in wire-to-wire fashion over a field that included Chief’s Crown, the juvenile champion who placed in all three Triple Crown races; Preakness winner Tank’s Prospect; and future Breeders’ Cup Classic winners Proud Truth and Skywalker.
The most recent filly to take the Derby, Winning Colors, led throughout to defeat juvenile champion Forty Niner and Risen Star, who won the divisional title after romping in the Preakness and Belmont. Seeking the Gold was another hot three-year-old by summertime, and finished a close second to Alysheba in the Breeders’ Cup Classic back at Churchill that fall.
Equaling the 1984 edition with the largest collection of individual Eclipse Award winners, this race included dual classic winner Real Quiet, Belmont winner and future older male champion Victory Gallop, 1997 Horse of the Year Favorite Trick, and future champion sprinter Artax.