Before we delve into our list of the top five fighting finishes in Kentucky Derby history, we should probably clarify what exactly we mean by a “fighting finish.” Whereas we’ve already completed list of the best Kentucky Derby winners of all time, we’re seeking out the best finishes – the closest margins with horses and jockeys duking it out to the finish line.
The origin of the “fighting finish” came from back before Churchill Downs had a film patrol and photo-finish camera in place to make the call on close finishes. After all, when some races come down to a nose being in front, it’s hard for a board of stewards to make the call.
That’s what happened in 1933. The Derby was being battled down to the wire between Head Play and Brokers Tip. Herb Fisher, aboard Head Play, claimed his horse crossed slightly before Brokers Tip, with Don Meade aboard. The finish was too close to call, and the decision that Brokers Tip was the victor was made by the stewards who watched through a pair of binoculars from a booth atop the grandstand.
If you’ve seen the location of the grandstand, you know that is not the place to make a photo-finish call. Although the finish line is in sight, the grandstand turns into the clubhouse before the final pole.
Now that you’ve received a short bit of backstory behind the fighting finish, take a look at the five modern time fighting finishes that top our list!
5. Majestic Prince over Arts and Letters
Arts and Letters broke early on May 3, 1969, immediately chasing the leader while Majestic Prince held himself in fourth place. The chase began as the horses turned for home. Majestic Prince led by half a length with Arts and Letters closing on the inside.
Majestic Prince was able to hold his lead by a neck over Arts and Letters for the 95th victory of the Kentucky Derby!
4. Winning Colors over Forty Niner
Winning Colors broke early from the pack and went immediately to the lead as experts expected. Forty Niner also broke sharply, but was held back to conserve for a final close. Winning Colors increased the lead up to four lengths on the backstretch.
As the horses rounded the final bend, Forty Niner began his move, but four lengths was too great of a lead. Niner came close to Winning Colors, but Colors held the victory of the 114th Kentucky Derby by a neck.
3. Silver Charm over Captain Bodgit
On May 3, 1997, Silver Charm was found in between horses in the middle of the pack. As they entered the back stretch, jockey Gary Stevens urged Silver Charm to the clear and began their move up on the leaders. Entering the home stretch, Silver Charm took the lead by a head over Free House.
Captain Bodgit had been moving steadily, coming into close. As Captain Bodgit came up on Silver Charm, passing Free House on the final furlong, Stevens asked for everything from Silver Charm and the horse kept a head on Captain at the wire, becoming the victor of the 132nd running of the Kentucky Derby.
2. Iron Liege over Gallant Man
In one of the most talented fields the Kentucky Derby has ever seen, Iron Liege galloped to victory over Gallant Man on May, 4, 1957. A jockey flaw is what separated Gallant Man from his Kentucky Derby victory and what allowed Iron Liege to surpass him by just a nose!
Jockey Bill Shoemaker, aboard Gallant Man, stood up too early in his stirrups after misjudging the finish line, giving GM the cue to slow. Iron Liege squeezed by under jockey Bill Hartack, and passed GM on the wire.
1. Grindstone over Cavonnier
On May 4, 1996, Grindstone closed in on the victory over the fast-paced Cavonnier! Grindstone was in 15th place while Cavonnier was in ninth and running clear rounding the far turn.
Jockey, Chris McCarron, urged Cavonnier to make his move wide around Halo Sunshine. In this move, Halo Sunshine’s jockey, Craig Perret, inadvertently struck Cavonnier with his whip on the head, slowing his moment before he regained his momentum.
Cavonnier then moved to the lead at the top of the stretch as Grindstone began gaining steadily on the top of the pack. With urging from jockey Jerry Bailey, Grindstone closed on Cavonnier with a final jump at the wire, winning the 122nd Kentucky Derby by a nose!
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The 140th Kentucky Derby was one for the decades! California Chrome won lengths apart from the pack as he secured the roses and carved a path for himself in the Triple Crown! Don’t miss your shot to see the 2015 Kentucky Derby raced LIVE!
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Get more information on how you can have the time of your life, and possibly see the next fighting finish at the 2015 Kentucky Derby today!