LOUISVILLE, Ky. (FOX 56) — “The Run for the Roses,” “The most exciting two minutes in sports,” or simply “The Derby,” the lore and pageantry of the Kentucky Derby have been etched in racing history since its inaugural running in 1875.

Churchill Downs has hosted many races over the last 148 years. Long-shot winners like Rich Strike in 2022 and blazing-fast times like Secretariat in 1973 have cemented the race as one of the most memorable events that happen each year.

Grab a mint julep and read more about the greatest Kentucky Derby-winning horses.

5. Whirlaway (1941)

Whirlaway was bred at Calumet Farm in Lexington. The thoroughbred was known as “Mr. Longtail” due to his abnormally long tail that would blow far behind him while he was racing.

Trainer Ben Jones told jockey Eddie Arcaro to ride the horse around 10 feet off the inner rail. Arcaro was able to keep Whirlaway on a straight path, and the horse won the 1941 Kentucky Derby by a record 8 lengths.

Whirlaway, ridden by Eddie Arcaro, wins the Kentucky Derby with eight lengths to spare. The 3-year-old set a new record of 2:01.4 for the Derby, and would go on to win the Triple Crown.

Whirlaway went on to win the Triple Crown and is also the only horse to win the Travers Stakes-oriented Grand Slam of Thoroughbred Racing.

4. Affirmed (1978)

Affirmed was the 11th winner of the Triple Crown and the last to do so for 37 years.

Bred in Marion County, Florida, Affirmed is famous for his rivalry with fellow legendary horse Alydar.

Affirmed and Alydar would square off again in the 1978 Kentucky Derby, with Alydar the betting favorite at 6-5.

In the Derby, Alydar stayed in the back while Affirmed held in third for the early parts of the race, trailing the undefeated Sensitive Prince before taking the lead at the second turn.

On the far turn, Affirmed made his move and began to pull away while Alydar made a charge from the back. Affirmed wound up holding off Alydar, winning by 1.5 lengths in a time of 2:01.2.

Baltimore, MD — 1978: Steve Cauthen with Affirmed, winners of the 1978 Preakness Stakes, at Pimlico Race Course. (Photo by Steve Fenn /Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images)

Affirmed won the coveted Horse of the Year award in both 1978 and 1979.

3. American Pharoah (2015)

No list would be complete without the thoroughbred that broke the 37-year skid between Triple Crown winners.

American Pharoah became the 12th horse in history, and the first since Affirmed in 1978 to win the Triple Crown.

Ridden by jockey Victor Espinosa, American Pharoah was the betting favorite coming into the Derby.

Espinosa positioned the horse in third place early, alongside Dortmund and Firing Line. The three horses stayed ahead of the rest of the pack for the remainder of the race.

On the final stretch, American Pharoah made his move on the outside of the pack and surged into the lead, winning the 2015 Kentucky Derby with a time of 2:03.02.

American Pharoah won the Breeders’ Cup leg of the Grand Slam of Thoroughbred Racing, becoming the only horse to do so.

2. Seattle Slew (1977)

Seattle Slew was foaled in 1974 in Lexington and was the main cause of “Slewmania.”

He is one of only two horses to have won the Triple Crown while being undefeated in any previous race, with the other being 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify, who is a direct descendant of Seattle Slew.

Joe Hirsch, a contributor for the Daily Racing Form, wrote, “Every time he ran he was an odds-on favorite, and the response to his presence on the racetrack, either for a morning workout or a major race, was electric. ‘Slewmania’ was a virulent and widespread condition,” regarding Seattle Slew’s three-year-old racing campaign.

(Original Caption) New York: Seattle Slew Combines Hustle Of Pete Rose And Habits Of A Teenager. 1977 Triple Crown Champ To Utilize Unique Talents In $150,000 Woodward Saturday At Belmont. Seattle Slew being compared to Pete Rose? Seattle Slew perks up his ears and peeks into his barn at the sound of rock music, his favorite according to trainer Doug Peterson. When Slew isn’t tuning in to his own radio in his Belmont Stall, he’s usually eating a lot or sleeping, even taking naps on racing days. Although he’ll probably take a long snooze on Saturday (9/30) morning, the four-year-old speedster aims to be alert and wide awake in the afternoon for the Woodward Stakes at Belmont. Groom Gary Denniston holds his reins.

Coming into the Derby, Seattle Slew was a 1-2 betting favorite, but some in the betting community felt he was vulnerable at a distance of 1.25 miles.

The 1977 Kentucky Derby was one for the ages. Jockey Jean Cruguet had his work cut out for him as Seattle Slew had a bumpy start and found himself at the back of the pack. He reacted by charging through the field and bumping several other horses out of the way in the process, working his way into second place.

At one point, Cruguet had to get Seattle Slew to relax as the horse grew agitated and wanted to challenge the horse in first, For the Moment.

For the Moment, a strong contender, held a lead of around a length going into the final turn before Seattle Slew pulled away by four lengths and coasted to a 1.75-length win with a time of 2:02.2.

(Original Caption) Seattle Slew wins the 103rd running of the Kentucky Derby with Jean Cruguet aboard followed by Run Dusty Run with Darrel McHargue in the saddle.

He went on to win the Triple Crown, becoming the 10th horse ever to do so.

Seattle Slew’s pedigree is as impressive as his 14-2 racing career. His descendants include Swale and California Chrome, who both won two of the three legs of the Triple Crown, along with Triple Crown winner Justified.

1. Secretariat

Secretariat won the Triple Crown in 1973 after winning the Belmont Stakes by an “unbelievable” 31 lengths.

Canadian jockey Ron Turcotte riding Secretariat in the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York, 9th June 1973. Other runners and riders unspecified. (Photo by Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)

Sired by Bold Ruler, a sprinting horse known for his impressive top speed but lack of endurance, similar concerns were expressed about Secretariat going into his racing career.

The story of Secretariat is the stuff of legend. Forty-five minutes after being born, the horse was standing and was nursing 30 minutes later.

Howard Gentry, the manager of Meadow Stud Farm, the birthplace of Secretariat, said, “He was as perfect a foal that I ever delivered,” when talking about Secretariat, who was then known as Big Red.

Ahead of the Derby, Secretariat and Angle Light were the betting favorites at 3-2, while Secretariat’s rival, Sham, was second at 5-2.

Chaos ensued out the gate as Twice a Prince reared in his stall and hit the horse next to him, which caused Sham to hit his head on the gate, loosening two of his teeth. Secretariat avoided all of the chaos by breaking last and cutting over to the rail.

On the way to his record-shattering winning time of 1:59.4, Secretariat ran each quarter-mile faster than the prior, accelerating from 0:25.2 to 0:23 in the final quarter-mile of the race.

Secretariat became the only horse to ever run the Derby in under two minutes, a record that would stand until Monarchos ran the second-fastest time ever in 2001.

(Original Caption) Secretariat is d rapped with roses after winning the Kentucky Derby with jockey Ron Turcotte aboard.

Sports writer Mike Sullivan said: “I was at Secretariat’s Derby, in ’73 … That was … just beauty, you know? He started in last place, which he tended to do. I was covering the second-place horse, which wound up being Sham. It looked like Sham’s race going into the last turn, I think. The thing you have to understand is that Sham was fast, a beautiful horse. He would have had the Triple Crown in another year. And it just didn’t seem like there could be anything faster than that. Everybody was watching him. It was over, more or less. And all of a sudden there was this, like, just a disruption in the corner of your eye, in your peripheral vision. And then before you could make out what it was, here Secretariat came. And then Secretariat had passed him. No one had ever seen anything run like that—a lot of the old guys said the same thing. It was like he was some other animal out there.”

During his Triple Crown campaign, Secretariat set track records at each leg along the way.

To this day, Secretariat still holds records for the fastest recorded times at each leg of the Triple Crown.