Big, Small, Lucky and Cursed: Kentucky Derby By the Numbers

©KY Derby Archive

The sport of Thoroughbred horse racing is often referred to as a “numbers game,” and there’s certainly no better example than the Kentucky Derby. The historic “Run for the Roses” is analyzed from virtually every angle by fans and horseplayers, and an astonishing amount of data is available about the race and the horses that will contest it.

With Kentucky Derby 143 coming up on Saturday, let’s take a quick look at the race from a numbers perspective.


The number of horses that have won the Kentucky Derby while starting from post position 17. It might be a statistical oddity (horses have won from posts 16 and 18), but post 17 remains the only gate position that hasn’t produced a Derby winner. This year, Irish War Cry will try to buck history.

Zero is also the number of races won by Arkansas Derby fourth-place finisher Sonneteer, a Derby longshot that is 0-for-10 so far in his career. He will attempt to become the first “maiden” to win the Derby since Broker’s Tip in 1933.


The number of previous Derby winners sired by Pioneerof the Nile, whose son Classic Empire is favored to win the 2017 Kentucky Derby. Pioneerof the Nile also sired 2015 Derby winner American Pharoah, who went on to sweep the Triple Crown.

Pioneerof the Nile at Winstar Farm. ©Loren Schumacher


The number of New Jersey-bred horses that have won the Kentucky Derby. Wood Memorial Stakes winner Irish War Cry will attempt to become the third, joining Regret (1915) and Cavalcade (1934).



The number of Kentucky Derby 143 starters trained by both Todd Pletcher and Steve Asmussen. Pletcher, who won the Derby with Super Saver in 2010, will send out Always Dreaming, Patch, and Tapwrit. Asmussen, who is seeking his elusive first Derby win, will be represented by Hence, Lookin at Lee, and Untrapped.

Todd Pletcher

Three is also the number of races in which Louisiana Derby runner-up Patch has competed, making him the most lightly-raced horse in the Derby field.


The number of consecutive betting favorites that have won the Kentucky Derby (Orb, California Chrome, American Pharoah, Nyquist). Should the favorite win again this year, it will mark the first time since the 1800s that five straight favorites have prevailed.

2014 Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome. ©Flickr/BillBrine


The number of gray or roan horses that have won the Kentucky Derby. Tapwrit and Fast and Accurate will each seek to add their name to the list this year.



The record number of Derby winners bred by historic Calumet Farm, which also owned eight of those winners (the last Calumet bred horse to win the Derby was Strike the Gold in 1991). Calumet Farm will seek to add to those totals by sending out three homebreds in the 2017 Derby—Hence, Patch, and Sonneteer.

©Sports Illustrated


The number of races contested by State of Honor and Sonneteer, making them the most experienced horses in the Derby field.


The combined number of Derbies won by jockeys Mike Smith (1), Victor Espinoza (3), Mario Gutierrez (2), John Velazquez (1), Joel Rosario (1), and Kent Desormeaux (3), all of whom will be seeking another win this year. Gary Stevens, who is named to ride the also-eligible Royal Mo, has also won three Derbies.

Mario Gutierrez will go for a second Kentucky Derby in a row, and third overall. He will ride Irap in Kentucky Derby 143.


The number of years since a horse that did not race as a two-year-old has prevailed in the Kentucky Derby. That unique feat was achieved by Apollo in 1882, and the many horses since then that have failed to replicate the feat are said to have been stopped by the “Apollo Curse.” Bad news for Patch and Battle of Midway.


The price brought by Fountain of Youth Stakes winner Gunnevera at the Keeneland September 2015 Yearling Sale, making him the least-expensive auction purchase in the Derby field.

Gunnevera ©Antonio Sano Racing


Career earnings of Derby hopeful Sonneteer, which is the lowest amount earned by any of the 2017 Derby entrants. (But that’s still an impressive chunk of change!)


The price brought by Tampa Bay Derby winner Tapwrit at the Fasig-Tipton New York Saratoga 2015 Select Yearling Sale, making him the most expensive auction purchase in the Derby field. Should he win, he would become the second-most expensive Derby winner in history (Fusaichi Pegasus, $4,000,000).



The amount of money that will be awarded to the winner of the 2017 Kentucky Derby.

Plenty of reasons to celebrate. ©Kentucky Derby


Career earnings of the reigning two-year-old champion Classic Empire, making him the highest-earning horse in the Derby field.

About the Author

J. Keeler Johnson is a writer, blogger, videographer, and racing enthusiast who considers Zenyatta to be his all-time favorite racehorse. He is the founder of the horse racing website and a regular contributor to and

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