20 Fun and Memorable Kentucky Derby Quotes & Sayings

May 2nd, 2024

There are few more iconic races on the schedule than the Kentucky Derby (G1) at Churchill Downs, with millions tuning in to watch the action from across the globe. One of the most unique factors that separates the Derby from other races are the horse and human stories, such as underdog stables and connections daring to dream that the impossible could be achieved.

There has been no shortage of famous stories emerging from the Derby throughout history, tales capturing the imagination of mainstream viewers who only tune in for one race per year. These narratives have helped shape the sport of horse racing and create long-lasting moments that stay with fans throughout their lives.

In addition to imagery, there have been iconic Kentucky Derby quotes throughout the race's 149-year history, whether from the on-track commentator, or connections trying to process the earth-shattering victory that they have managed to achieve after the race.

But, what are some of the most iconic Kentucky Derby quotes and Kentucky Derby sayings that have stayed with fans throughout history?

“I’d rather have a bad day at the track than a good day off it, somewhere else.” - John Nerud

One of the most famous Kentucky Derby sayings was uttered by John Nerud ahead of the renowned race. It’s a saying that many bettors will tend to agree with, as there is nothing better than watching the best horses in action in-person.

Nerud would achieve more success than most on track, winning over 1,000 races during his career as a trainer, and he was later inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1972.

“Come Derby day, there’s four years that have gone into the preparation of that horse.” - John Sosby

One of the most famous Kentucky Derby quotes, proclaimed by John Sosby, echoes the plans that go into preparing a horse for the Triple Crown. Before lining up in prep races, horses need to be bred to perfection to stand the best chance of performing in the Derby.

This quote from Sosby shows the years of hard work that must be completed before even thinking about winning the race at Churchill Downs.

“If Jack Nicklaus can win the Masters at 46, I can win the Kentucky Derby at 54.” - Bill Shoemaker

Bill Shoemaker is largely regarded as one of the greatest jockeys to have ever lived. He made history in 1986 by becoming the oldest rider to ever win the Kentucky Derby while aboard Ferdinand.

After the win, he claimed, “If Jack Nicklaus can win the Masters at 46, I can win the Kentucky Derby at 54”, which would later be remarked as one of the most famous Kentucky Derby quotes. Shoemaker held the record for most professional victories for 29 years and would land victories in eleven Triple Crown races.

“You hear about the Kentucky Derby. You hear that it’s the greatest race in the world.” - Laffit Pincay, Jr

Laffit Pincay, Jr. labeled the Kentucky Derby as the ‘greatest race in the world’ during his career in the saddle, which stretched across five decades. The sentiment is hard to argue against, with the Derby engrossing millions of fans to the sport on an annual basis.

Pincay Jr. only landed one victory in the Derby, riding Swale to success at Churchill Downs before landing a third win in the Belmont Stakes on the same runner.

“To win the Kentucky Derby is the goal of every trainer." - Bob Lewis

When making one of the most iconic Kentucky Derby quotes, Bob Lewis admitted that all trainers dream of winning the Triple Crown race at Churchill Downs. For many, it is the only race on the schedule that matters, as it is the quickest way to become immortalized in the sport forever.

“You can’t run a mule in the Kentucky Derby.” - Jim Leyland

Jim Leyland made one of the greatest Kentucky Derby sayings when he claimed that a ‘mule’ couldn’t run in the Kentucky Derby. Despite this, there has been no shortage of big-priced winners in the race, including Rich Strike, who defied odds of 80-1 in 2022.

“I didn’t think I could win necessarily, but I knew if he got it, they’d know who he was when the race was over.” - Eric Reed

Speaking of Rich Strike, the runner’s trainer, Eric Reed, dropped one of the most famous Kentucky Derby quotes after his win in the 2022 Derby

While admitting that he didn’t believe his runner had the best chance to win, he knew that Rich Strike could make his presence felt.

“This is the day for anyone involved with horses. The dream is to win the Kentucky Derby because there’s nothing like it.” - Billy Turner

Trainer Billy Turner remarked how important the Derby is for horse racing when making one of the most famous Kentucky Derby phrases. The New Yorker was most famous for winning the Triple Crown in 1977 with Seattle Slew, while he also landed victories in famous races such as the Metropolitan Handicap, Wood Memorial Stakes, and the Withers Stakes.

“A horse is only three once. His opportunity is only going to occur once when he sets foot into that gate, and he is only going to have two minutes and a little bit of extra time to pull it off.” - John Sosby    

John Sosby revealed how rare it is to get an opportunity to run in the famous race when dropping one of the iconic Kentucky Derby sayings. Only horses that are aged three can compete in the race, meaning injury or poor planning could spurn connections of their only chance of winning the race.

“As a young boy, I won a few dollars in 1972 when Riva Ridge won the Kentucky Derby. I had overheard someone say he was going to win, and I guess that made an impression on me.” - Matt Gonzalez

Matt Gonzalez, lawyer and current Chief Attorney at the San Francisco Public Defender's office, echoes the thoughts of all bettors in one of the funny Kentucky Derby quotes when it comes to selecting a runner for the race. Matt was six years old at the time.

Riva Ridge landed success in the 1972 edition of the race, before following up with success in the Belmont Stakes. 

“No horse can go as fast as the money you bet on him.” - Nate Collier

Bettors always have high expectations when they make a bet on a runner in any race.

Nonetheless, famous cartoonist Nate Collier perfectly weighs up in one of the funny Kentucky Derby quotes that not all runners can live up to the hope placed upon them by gamblers.

Collier, who dedicated his life to creating cartoons and caricatures in publications such as the Chicago Journal, passed away in 1961.

“I wasn’t nervous; I was excited. Nobody knows my horse like I know my horse.” - Sonny Leon

Sonny Leon, the jockey who made history after winning the 2022 Derby with Rich Strike, recalls in one of the Kentucky Derby phrases that he always had confidence in his runner coming through. 

Rich Strike gave the horse racing jockey a first Grade One winner and defied odds of 80/1.

“I tell you waiting for the Derby to start is the longest day of your life… It’s just a unique time of thrill and tension and worry.” - Penny Chenery

Penny Chenery highlighted the thoughts of every owner in the U.S. when it comes to the anticipation that comes with having a runner in the Derby. Chenery achieved huge success in the famous Triple Crown race, winning for the first time in 1972 with Riva Ridge. 

However, her most famous success as an owner and breeder came in 1973, when Secretariat won the Triple Crown and emerged as one of the best thoroughbreds the world has ever seen. 

"He's a little horse with a big heart. It was the dream trip for any jockey." - Javier Castellano

While some Kentucky Derby quotes will be about unfortunate losers, the race is all about the winner. 

Javier Castellano was forced to fight back the tears when talking about Mage’s win in the first jewel of the Triple Crown in 2023.

“And you are about to see something that you ain’t never even seen.” - Eddie Sweat

Secretariat is widely considered to be the most talented horse to have ever raced in the USA. 

Eddie Sweat knew how capable the runner in his care was and delivered one of the most iconic Kentucky Derby quotes in the lead-up to the 1973 race.

"The best thing about the Kentucky Derby is that it is only two minutes long. It is the quickest event in sports, except for Sumo-wrestling & Mike Tyson fights." Hunter S. Thompson 

Hunter S. Thompson, the American journalist and author, wrote "The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved" after his trip to the 1970 edition, his observations about the "Run for the Roses" becoming one of the more famous examples of Gonzo journalism. 

“When you touch the dirt on the track, you have the feeling, at that moment, that you are on the center stage of the universe.” - Steve Cauthen

Steve Cauthen unearthed one of the most famous Kentucky Derby quotes when he recalled that there is nothing more important than the race. 

The legendary jockey was the youngest to win the U.S. Triple Crown and is the only rider to have won both the Epsom Derby and Kentucky Derby.

“Until you go to the Kentucky Derby with your own eyes, behold the Derby, you ain’t never been nowhere, and you ain’t seen nothing.” - Irvin Cobb

American author Irvin Cobb dropped one of the most famous Kentucky Derby sayings when talking about his love for the race. 

Cobb was an avid follower of the sport and was a regular visitor in attendance at the Triple Crown opener in his home state.

“I feel like the luckiest man alive” - Kent Desormeaux

Kent Desormeaux won three Derbies at Churchill Downs, and he recalled his joy in one of the most famous Kentucky Derby phrases when talking about his victory in the race. 

The jockey won the race for the first time in 1998 with Real Quiet, before landing further victories in 2000 and 2008 with Fusaichi Pegasus and Big Brown, respectively.

“Miracles were made to come true, and it happened today for me” - Chris Antley

Chris Antley unleashed one of the most famous Kentucky Derby quotes after winning the race for the first time in 1991 with Strike The Gold. 

The jockey would repeat the success with another Derby win years later, as he rode Charismatic to victory in 1999.

by Alex Dudley