What’s The Closest Margin Of Victory In Kentucky Derby History?

California Chrome winning the Kentucky Derby

Getty Image

Each May, millions of people take a bit of time out of Saturday afternoon and turn their attention to Churchill Downs to witness the annual spectacle that is the Kentucky Derby.

The crown jewel of horse racing (and the first leg of the trio of competitions that comprise the Triple Crown) is a highly-anticipated event that draws upwards of 170,000 spectators who head to the Louisville racetrack each year decked out in their finest duds to witness “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports.”

If you’ve consistently tuned into the Kentucky Derby over the years, you know anything can happen once the horses leave the starting gate and commence their one-and-a-quarter-mile trek around the dirt track that’s home to horse racing’s premier event.

There have been more than a few years where the Run for the Roses has failed to produce a ton of the drama we’ve come to expect; a grand total of 22 entrants have managed to go wire-to-wire after pulling out to a lead and never really looking back.

However, more often than not, we’re treated to the excitement stemming from a heated competition defined by back-and-forth action, plenty of lead changes, and the disqualification that caused plenty of controversy in 2019.

That’s especially true when it comes to what tends to unfold during the final stretch, and while there have been some incredibly close finishes in Kentucky Derby history, one stands out from the rest of the pack.

What’s the closest margin of victory recorded at the Kentucky Derby?

The finish line at the Kentucky Derby

Getty Image

A handful of horses have absolutely dominated the competition at the Kentucky Derby—especially the quartet that managed to get past the post eight lengths ahead (approximately 64 feet) ahead of the second-place finisher, which is currently the mark to beat when it comes to the largest margin of victory.

However, things have a tendency to come down to the wire, which was the case in the 25 runnings where the winner edged out the horse behind it by a neck (the equivalent of a quarter of a length) or less.

There are two particular races that stand out thanks to the wild manner in which they ended.

The first concerns what unfolded in 1933.

Jockeys Don Meade and Herb Fisher were respectively attempting to get Brokers Tip and Head Play across the finish line when they stopped using their whips on their horses and began attacking each other down the home stretch, and the race ended in a dead heat before Brokers Tip was declared the winner by race officials.

Technology had thankfully come a bit further by the time 1996 rolled around, and it was employed by stewards thanks to the photo finish we were treated to that year.

Unbridled’s Song was the favorite and appeared to be well on its way to victory, but Grindstone and jockey Jerry Bailey staged a dramatic surge that saw the two horses cross the finish line at virtually the exact same time. 

The announcers covering the race on television were unable to call it live based on how close it was in real-time, but after officials reviewed the picture of the photo finish, Grindstone was awarded the win thanks to what remains the closest margin of victory the Kentucky Derby has ever seen. 

Connor Toole avatar and headshot for BroBible
Connor Toole is the Deputy Editor at BroBible. He is a New England native who went to Boston College and currently resides in Brooklyn, NY. Frequently described as "freakishly tall," he once used his 6'10" frame to sneak in the NBA Draft and convince people he was a member of the Utah Jazz.