Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 135 days to go

Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 135 days to go

135 Days! 1884 Buchanan was the first of three Kentucky Derby winners ridden by Isaac Murphy, the others being Riley and Kingman. Murphy would go on and win an unprecedented 44% of his races, winning 628 of 1412 starts.

By the time he won his first Kentucky Derby, he was one of America’s highest paid athletes, earning around $20,000 a year. He would also win the Kentucky Oaks in 1884 aboard Modesty, becoming only one of seven to complete the double in the same year. Murphy would be the first jockey inducted to the Racing Hall of Fame.

Buchanan was bred by Captain Billy Cotrill of Alabama and J. W. Guest of Kentucky. Cotrill bought out Guest while Buchanan was a yearling, and then sold ½ of him to Capt. S.S. Brown of Pittsburgh. Buchanan was sent to be trained by William Bird.  Bird was the trainer of a horse named Crickmore, which twice defeated the great Hindoo, one of those ending Hindoo’s 18 race win streak. Bird would also become the 4th of 6 African-American trainers to win the Kentucky Derby. Buchanan wouldn’t win a race at two, but he only started in stakes races, finishing 2nd five times and 3rd once out of six starts. The Kentucky Derby would be his maiden win.

Prior to running in the Derby, the horse that was known as a bad actor, bolted badly in the Belle Meade, running out of control. He ran second, but was moved to third because of a claim of foul. Murphy, who called Buchanan, “the wildest horse in America”, was going to refuse to ride the horse in the Kentucky Derby. He was listed to ride another horse in the race, but had a contract with Cotrill to ride the horse in the Derby. The judges told him that if he didn’t honor his commitment, he wouldn’t be able to ride the day, and there was a threat that he wouldn’t be able to ride the meet. Shortly before the race was run, Murphy decided to ride and the announcement was made.

The 10th Kentucky Derby would see a sunny day and a crowd of 5,000 that watched the race from the free infield. It was reported to have been the largest crowd to see the Derby, with a reported 18,000 to 20,000 people filling the stands. Shade trees had been planted around the grounds, and the carpenters had been busy constructing new barn with 500 new stalls. There were over 600 horses on the grounds for the meet. The new chute that had been in use for works the year prior was now to be used for all of the fractional races of the meet.

Outfitted with blinkers for the first time, Buchanan still acted up in the post parade and at the start, which caused him to break poorly. Murphy kept him to the inside to save ground for the first three quarters of a mile, running in 8th of the 9 horse field.  He then moved him to the outside where he quickly raced to the front and led by two coming into the stretch. Murphy geared him down in the final eighth to win the race easily by two lengths, in a time of 2:40.1/4. When the pair came back to the judge’s stand after the race, they were greeted with a deafening roar.

“The hooded son of Buckden sped down the stretch carrying the crimson and white of Captain Cotrill first past the post in 1884.” Courier-Journal.

Surprisingly, in the Derby Buchanan didn’t seem to want to bolt as he had prior, and from then on in his career was well-behaved. In his three year old season he started 5 times, winning three and coming in third twice. After winning the Kentucky Derby, he would win the Clark, completing the double. He raced through his five year old year and was retired to Senorita Stock Farm, now the current location of the Kentucky Horse Park.

Rickelle  Nelson

Rickelle Nelson

Reservations Manager for the Kentucky Derby Museum