Stories You Should Know: 1913 Kentucky Derby

May 10th, 1913, Churchill Downs, Louisville, Kentucky, the eight horses were approaching the post, getting ready for the 39th running of the Kentucky Derby. The original field was twelve, but four had scratched just before post time. The betting favorite, Ten Point, drew the prime number four post position, situated between #3 Gowell and #5 Donerail, two horses that were not believed to be a threat. The two other favorites, Foundation and Yankee Notions were outside Ten Point in post positions eight and six respectively.

At the jump the favorite, Ten Point, raced to the lead, showing his expected speed through the mile. Foundation stayed with Ten Point, taking the lead on the backstretch, only to be passed by Yankee Notions. Ten Point nosed back in front entering turn three and the three favorites came around the final turn fighting for the lead. They hadn’t completely separated themselves from the rest of the pack, but coming off the last turn it seemed like a three horse race. That was suddenly reduced to two as Yankee Notions fell off the pace. Foundation was the next to founder, so at the head of the final stretch Ten Point seemed to be in complete control.

Ten Point was the favorite heading into the 1913 Derby and lead comfortably into the final stretch.

The jockey for Donerail, Roscoe Goose, had kept his mount constrained in the early going, keeping his horse on the outside, away from trouble, but at the same time trying to stay in contact with the leaders. Goose released his big stallion at the start of the home stretch. Gowell, who was trailing Donerail, followed him off the final turn. Yankee Notions was their first victim as the two horses came thundering off the last turn. Foundation was next for Donerail, with Gowell closing, but still in 4th. Ten Point was hanging on gamely, but Donerail kept coming on the outside. Donerail forged ahead of Ten Point at the 1 and 1/16th mark and continued to inch further ahead. Gowell finally surged past Foundation, but didn’t have enough track to catch Ten Point. At the finish Donerail’s lead was  ½ length over Ten Point, with Gowell another length and a half back, a head in front of Foundation who was a neck ahead of Yankee Notions. The other three horses in the race were well back.

Donerail was the biggest upset in Derby history, he ran down the favorite, Ten Point on the home stretch and clocked the fastest time in history.

The winning time was 2:04.8, the fastest Kentucky Derby up to that time (the current record is 1:59.4 set by Secretariat in 1973). Immediately after the race Donerail, as was his nature, started acting up. Jockey Roscoe Goose removed his saddle prior to the presentation of the roses to calm his horse. Goose, a native of Louisville was beaming in the winner’s circle. Speaking to the horse’s trainer and owner, Tom P. Hayes, and Kentucky Governor James B. McCreary during the trophy presentation he exclaimed, “I regard it as the greatest afternoon in my whole life for the reason that I was born and reared in Louisville and I have won Louisville’s greatest race.”

In 1913 the Kentucky Derby was not nearly as big as what it has become. Like today, it was probably the most important horse race of the season, but there was none of the pomp involved as in today’s version. The crowd was around 30,000, nothing compared to today’s throngs of upwards of 170,000, and a national television audience in the neighborhood of 16 million. What then makes this win so different from the other 144 running’s of “The Run For the Roses”? Why highlight this one?

It’s simple; Donerail went off at a 91-1 longshot to win the Kentucky Derby. A $2 bet provided a payout of $184.90. Donerail was, by far, the biggest long-shot to ever win the Derby. The next biggest payouts for Kentucky Derby Winners were Giacomo in 2005 and Mine That Bird in 2009. They both went out at 50-1. It was a stunning victory by an unknown horse.

Looking back at the events of May 10th,1913 it appears that Donerail was very undervalued. He would ultimately start 62 races in his five year career. He finished in the money in half of his 62 starts, with 10 firsts, 11 seconds and 10 thirds in those races. Not great, but evidence that he was better than his 91-1 odds. The horse retired in 1917, sold for breeding, before being donated to the U.S. Calvary to sire Calvary horses during World War I. His total career earnings were $15,156, but more important than that, he was the most unlikely Kentucky Derby winner ever.

The race was also a life changer for the Jockey. “The Golden Goose” Roscoe Goose, born in 1891, grew up in a family of accomplished horsemen. He began his riding career in his teens where he was joined by his brother Carl. “The Golden Goose’s” riding days ended suddenly in 1915 after 135 wins when a tragic accident on the track took the life of his brother. Roscoe would become a trainer, breeder, owner, and elder statesman of the sport. He would mentor the great Eddie Arcaro (4,779 career wins) in Arcaro’s early years and wouldn’t pass away until 1971, remembered as one of the most successful people in horse racing history.  

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