What Is the Apollo Curse?

What Is the Apollo Curse?

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When the Kentucky Derby rolls around, it’s common to hear horseplayers and racing fans refer to the “Apollo Curse.” The phrase is widely recognized, but for new or casual fans, it can be confusing–after all, the Apollo Curse is often mentioned without any explanation of who “Apollo” was or why he has a “curse” named after him.

Fortunately, the explanation is simple–in the 142-year history of the Kentucky Derby, only one horse has ever won the “Run for the Roses” without having raced as a two-year-old. That lone exception was Apollo, who won the Derby in 1882–135 years ago!

Since then, dozens of horses have attempted the feat, but all have fallen short of victory and few have hit the board. Since 1937, these horses have compiled a record of 3 seconds and 4 thirds from 59 starts, and among the horses that failed to overcome the Apollo Curse are the Hall of Famer members Curlin (3rd in 2007), Forego (4th in 1973), and Coaltown (2nd in 1948).

Courtesy of Churchill Downs, here is the complete list of horses that have attempted to break the Apollo Curse since 1937:

Materiality 2015 6th
Verrazano 2013 14th
Bodemeister* 2012 2nd
Midnight Interlude 2011 16th
Summer Bird 2009 6th
Dunkirk 2009 11th
Curlin 2007 3rd
Showing Up 2006 6th
Greeley’s Galaxy 2005 11th
Song of the Sword 2004 11th
Atswhatimtalknbout 2003 4th
Wheelaway 2000 5th
Curule 2000 7th
Trippi 2000 11th
Desert Hero 1999 13th
Valhol 1999 15th
Pulpit 1997 4th
Strodes Creek 1994 2nd
Devil His Due 1992 12th
Disposal 1992 18th
Corporate Report 1991 9th
Alydavid 1991 14th
Pendleton Ridge 1990 13th
Wheatly Hall 1986 6th
Zabaleta 1986 12th
Irish Fighter 1985 11th
Majestic Shore 1984 Did Not Finish
Reinvested 1982 3rd
Air Forbes Won* 1982 7th
Wavering Monarch 1982 12th
Flying Nashua 1981 8th
Great Redeemer 1979 10th
Chief of Dixieland 1978 9th
Affiliate 1977 9th
Best Person 1977 15th
Amano 1976 4th
On the Sly 1976 5th
Media 1975 5th
Bold Chapeau 1975 8th
Agitate 1974 3rd
Confederate Yankee 1974 12th
Forego 1973 4th
Twice a Prince 1973 12th
Big Spruce 1972 7th
Kentuckian 1972 10th
Dr. Neale 1972 15th
Fourulla 1971 19th
Gleaming Sword 1968 13th
Our Dad 1959 15th
Gone Fishin’ 1958 8th
No Regrets 1956 7th
Fanfare 1951 5th
Golden Birch 1951 19th
Coaltown (e)* 1948 2nd
Hampden 1946 3rd
Perfect Bahram (e)* 1946 9th
Rippey 1946 10th
Bert G. 1945 14th
Comenow 1944 12th

* Started as the favorite, either as a single wagering interest or as a coupled entry (e) with a stablemate.

This year, at least two horses will enter the Kentucky Derby with a shot to break the Apollo Curse. They are Patch, runner-up in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II), and Battle of Midway, runner-up in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I). A third Derby contender–Malagacy–could also break the curse, though he is not certain to start in the Derby and may await the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) instead.

Now that you know the definition of the Apollo Curse, let’s see if one of these talented colts can break 135 years of history!

Free past performances for all of the Kentucky Derby contenders are available from the Brisnet website.

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Follow J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman"):

J. Keeler Johnson is a writer, blogger, videographer, and all-around horse racing enthusiast who was drawn to the sport by Curlin's quest to become North America's richest racehorse. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He lives in Wisconsin and also writes for the Bloodhorse.com blog Unlocking Winners.

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