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Derby 101: The Apollo Curse

A sketch of Apollo, via Kentucky Derby

There’s a curse on the Kentucky Derby that’s lasted almost as long as the race.  This year it could finally be broken.

In 1882 Apollo won the eighth running of the Kentucky Derby by a half-length.  The win was the first and only horse to ever win the Derby without a start as a two-year old.  It has been 136 years since an unraced two-year old won the Kentucky Derby.  Since 1937, 61 unraced juveniles have entered the Derby and only have five finished in the money.

A few have almost broken Apollo’s curse in recent years.  Curlin finished third to Street Sense in 2007 before eventually defeating him in the Preakness.  Summer Bird had a sixth-place Derby finish in 2009, but beat the Derby winner Mine that Bird in the Belmont.  Two in this year’s field are poised to end The Apollo Curse.

Justify did not race as a two-year old, but will enter the starting gate as the 3-to-1 morning line favorite.  The big, beautiful beast has won all three of his races with ease.  Unchallenged in the Santa Anita Derby, Bolt d’Oro only got within a length of Justify for a few seconds down the stretch.

Todd Pletcher’s Magnum Moon has won all four of his races as a three-year old, including the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby, but did not run as a two-year old.  The horse opens with 6-to-1 odds, the third-highest in the field.  If he didn’t take a weird, wide turn at Oaklawn, he might have challenged Justify to be Saturday’s favorite.

If there was ever a year for Apollo’s 136-year curse to be broken, it’s this year.

Read more in the Derby 101 Series: CocktailsNew Gates and Traffic Patterns, William Faulkner’s Timeless Kentucky Derby Account

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Article written by Nick Roush

"Look upon the doughnut, and not upon the hole." @RoushKSR

1 Comment for Derby 101: The Apollo Curse



  1. unbridled
    11:14 am May 2, 2018 Permalink

    How many hands is Justify? Thing looks giant!