Countdown to the Kentucky Derby 104 days to go!

Countdown to the Kentucky Derby 104 days to go!

104 Days!!! 1915 Regret, the first of three fillies to ever win the race, is one of my favorite Kentucky Derby winners! There is such a story behind the New Jersey bred filly, and never enough room to tell it all.

The story begins with her name. She was foaled at owner Henry Payne Whitney’s Brookdale Farm in New Jersey in the spring of 1912. She was by Broomstick (who was by Derby winner Ben Brush) and out of Whitney bred Jersey Lightning who traced to Longfellow, through his Derby winning son, Riley. Longfellow was known as the "King of the Turf" and was the country's most popular horse in the years following the Civil War. Her third dam, Modesty, defeated males in the inaugural American Derby of 1884, "The" race for 3-year-olds in the country at the time. The "lore" of the story is that she got her name because her owner really wanted a colt, and "regretted" having a filly. So much so that someone said, “Well if you regret it so much, why don’t you name her Regret?” Whether it is true or not, the regret certainly was short-lived!

Regret's trainer was James Rowe, Sr., who won the Derby with Hindoo in 1881, and also won the Belmont Stakes 8 times. He loved Regret and trained her to become the first horse to win all three of Saratoga's stakes for 2YO's, the Saratoga Special Stakes, Sanford Memorial Stakes and Hopeful Stakes. These were the only races she ran in as a 2YO, all stakes and all against colts, and all in the span of 14 days carrying 127 pounds in the last two. She would defeat the good colt and rival, Pebbles, in two of those races. The three victories were impressive enough to earn her the 2YO Filly Championship.

Her 3YO season started with the Kentucky Derby. Rowe started her training in the early spring, at times when there was still snow on the ground. He shipped Regret and nine other horses to Churchill straight from his training farm. Rowe and jockey “Little Joe” Notter rode for two days in the box car with Regret and arrived on May 2nd, 6 days before the Kentucky Derby. Rowe would find himself with a filly that hadn’t raced in nine months, who wasn't liking the track, her food, and everything in general. Her trainer and jockey slept in the stall next to her, and at times in the stall with her, just to keep an eye on her.

By May 4th, people were flooding the track just to see Regret, who would make her appearance under Notter. Rowe worked the filly the Derby distance, with her stopping the watch in a slow 2:14 3/5. The next day, three days before the race, he worked her the distance again, this time with a little better result, galloping the mile and a quarter in 2:08 3/5, although it was still slower than her male counterpart’s times.

When Whitney arrived from his farm, he was considering not running the filly due to the circumstances. Joe Notter, however, had great faith in his mount, and persuaded him to keep her entered.   It rained heavily the night before, which also happened to be the day the Lusitania, an ocean liner, was sunk by a German U-boat's torpedo. On the liner was Henry Payne Whitney's brother-in-law, Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt.

Before the race was run, they only knew that he was among the missing, and many thought that it would lead to Regret being scratched from the race. They continued on with the race. When it was discovered that he had passed valiantly in the sinking, Whitney retired the stable for the year. Regret though, didn’t stop racing. Whitney leased his stable to a friend, L.S. Thompson, whose colors she carried to victory in the Saranac Handicap, her only other start in 1915. In the Saranac, she would defeat Belmont and Whithers winner, The Finn. Her campaign would see her win the 3YO Filly Championship as well as Horse of the Year.

Derby Day, May 8, 1915, was beautiful, sunny, warm, and windy. The track managed to be a "gummy" fast track with lots of work. Between 40- 50,000 people showed up to see what the filly could do, and she didn't disappoint. The first filly to actually go off as the favorite, she was 15th filly to run in the great race, taking on 15 colts, the largest and best field to date.  

After a couple of delays at the start, she would take the lead shortly after the start. She led the rest of the race, trailed by her foe, Pebbles. He raced off of Regret, staying about a length behind, until they reached the far turn. The crowd was leaning so far over the rail that Notter had to move the filly off of it, trying to avoid the noise or anything that might interfere with her running. It was on the turn that Pebble’s jockey asked for him to begin his challenge, getting as close as her throat latch before Notter loosed the filly.

She bounded away under a hand ride, to cross the line, an easy 2 lengths in front, stopping the clock in a time of 2:05 2/5. In doing so, she also became the first undefeated Kentucky Derby winner!

From The Courier-Journal: “Regret pulled up remarkably fresh after her long journey. When she came back into the charm circle before the judges' stand she was still full of run. When the wreath was placed around her neck and Jockey Notter boosted up on her bare, sweaty back the cheering which had accompanied her victory was a mere whisper in comparison to the ovation she received when the idea that the unattainable had been attained and that a filly had conquered the princes of the turf and won a Kentucky Derby, penetrated the head of the vast throng. Under a smiling sun, forgetful of world's tragedy, society assembled a brilliant gathering around the clubhouse grounds to witness the running of the Derby to-day. Mr. Whitney was one of the first men out on the track after the race was over, and as Regret was jogging back to the stand he remarked: "Isn't she the prettiest little filly you ever saw? You know," he continued, "this is the greatest race in America at the present time, and I don't care if she never starts again. The glory of winning this event is big enough, and Regret can retire to the New Jersey farm any time now. I told Rowe I didn't care if she never won another race if she could only land this one. I have seen much bigger crowds than this one in the East and abroad, but I never saw a more enthusiastic one. It's great" and the expression on his face, as he stood patting the mare's neck was the best evidence in the world that he is a worthy representative of his illustrious father, than whom racing never had a better friend."

Regret was scheduled to run in the Kentucky Oaks, which was run on May 21st. Unfortunately an illness would keep her from starting, preventing her from being the only horse to win the Oaks/Derby double, considering that they are only run a day apart now. At five, Regret would win the Gazelle Handicap, defeating the CCA Oaks winner, Wistful, while carrying 24 more pounds. She set a track record for seven furlongs at Aqueduct, covering the distance in 1:24 1/5. Regret also raced in the Brooklyn Handicap, a race that featured three Kentucky Derby winners.1914 victor Old Rosebud, Regret, and the 1917 champ, Omar Khayyam. She would easily defeat them, but finished second by a nose to her stablemate, Borrow, who carried 5 pounds less than Regret. She would earn the 1917 Champion Handicap Female award for her campaign. She was retired to Whitney’s broodmare band at his Kentucky farm, although she didn’t produce any great horses, she did foal several well-known steeplechase contenders, as well as stakes winner, Revenge, and stakes placed, Penitent. When she passed, she was buried on the farm. In her career, Regret would start 11 times; win 9, second once, and only one time off the board. She was never defeated by another filly. She won a race that would see it take 65 years until another filly would win, and is responsible for making the Kentucky Derby the race that it is today! Matt Winn credited Regret, saying that the race, “needed only a victory by Regret to create for us some coast-to-coast publicity, and Regret did not fail us. The Derby thus was made an American institution”. She was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1957.

Rickelle  Nelson

Rickelle Nelson

Reservations Manager for the Kentucky Derby Museum