Flashback: The 2001 Kentucky Derby

Horse Racing Radar
Frisco Bash
Frisco Bash is a Staff writer for Horse Racing Radar
Wednesday, April 21, 2021

The 2001 Kentucky Derby has got to be one of the most wild, memorable, and shocking editions of its history. From the wicked fast half mile, to the shocking finish of the favorite, to the impressive final time, and to the superb call from Tom Durkin. Let's take a walk down memory lane.

It was a highly competitive bunch which made the result so unpredictable. On the one hand, there was the highly touted POINT GIVEN, the betting favorite from the Bob Baffert barn, coming off a powerhouse performance in the Santa Anita Derby last time out.

The second favorite was CONGAREE, who jumped into the scene by winning the Wood Memorial over MONARCHOS. As for MONARCHOS — he made quite some noise when he won the Florida Derby. See the video below.


He flashed a devastating turn of foot to score the win, and was on the Derby radar as a serious contender. He notched his third consecutive victory and had earned an Equibase Figure of 113 for the effort.

But when he finished second to CONGAREE next time out, failing to show his late kick, many fans hopped off the wagon. 


MONARCHOS is by MARIA'S MON out of REGAL BAND by DIXIELAND BAND. He was trained by John T. Ward Jr., owned by John C. Oxley.

By Kentucky Derby weekend, MONARCHOS was assigned morning line odds of 6-1. He drifted as high as 10-1 by the time the gates opened.

Here was the field for the 127th Kentucky Derby, with post position and odds:



  3. BALTO STAR 8-1


  5. FIFTY STARS 50-1

  6. EXPRESS TOUR 15-1

  7. ARTIC BOY 50-1

  8. CONGAREE 5-1

  9. A P VALENTINE 15-1

  10. DOLLAR BILL 10-1

  11. TALK IS MONEY 50-1

  12. STARTAC 50-1

  13. INVISIBLE INK 30-1

  14. KEATS 30-1

  15. JAMAICAN RUM 50-1

  16. MONARCHOS 6-1

  17. POINT GIVEN 9-5

The stage was set — all 17 horses loaded fine into the gate. MONARCHOS broke well, but was actually slammed to the left by the massive body of POINT GIVEN who broke inwardly. Fortunately all recovered and were sent on their way, while SONGANDAPRAYER was gunned to the lead. MONARCHOS characteristically took his position toward the rear of the field. 

They raced very strung out. Tom Durkin measured 20 lengths from front to back, with MONARCHOS about 16 lengths off the lead. Make no question, they were winging it. Then came Durkin's unforgettable line:

"The opening half mile was the fastest in Derby history! 44 and 4/5th seconds! SONGANDAPRAYER's pace is blistering down the back stretch!" — Tom Durkin

Truly suicidal fractions. They went 44.8 for a ten furlong race. If we watch the video replay (provided at the very bottom), we can hear the ‘Oohs' from the crowd. 

But MONARCHOS was well reserved near the back of the pack for Jorge Chavez. Hearing the fractional times on the intercom must have been music to the ears of every jockey on a closer, especially Jorge Chavez.

As they reached the quarter pole, the anxious tone of the crowd became obvious. The frontrunners were commited now. How long could they keep up?

Not for long — the pacesetters began to backpeddle, hard. 

That's when MONARCHOS began his eye-catching move from the back of the pack, gobbling up ground with every stride. 

They ran three quarters in 1:09.2. MONARCHOS circled the field and was within three lengths when they straightened for home. He blows by POINT GIVEN, then sweeps past CONGAREE, and then draws off to win by three lengths. It was an emphatic victory. INVISIBLE INK got up for second, nosing out CONGAREE who settled for the third. POINT GIVEN finished a disappointing fifth.

"... and the final time was 1 minute 59 and 4/5 seconds, he was as fast as SECRETARIAT!" — Tom Durkin

MONARCHOS became only the second horse to run the Kentucky Derby in under 2 minutes. The only other horse to do it was SECRETARIAT, who to this day holds the record final time of 1 minute 59 and 2/5 seconds. MONARCHOS and Jorge Chavez were blanketed with Roses, they graced the winner circle for pictures, and the Kentucky Derby Trophy was presented.

Unfortunately MONARCHOS wasn't able to repeat his winning ways for the remainder of the Triple Crown series. He finished sixth in the Preakness and 3rd in the Belmont. He was then retired in January that following year, after a third-place effort in an Allowance Optional Claiming race at Gulfstream Park.

Nevertheless, his achievement in the 2001 Kentucky Derby will be forever celebrated in his memory. He ran as fast as SECRETARIAT. He gave Jorge Chavez, John T. Ward Jr., and John C. Oxley their Kentucky Derby. He gave racing fans a wild and unforgettable race.

MONARCHOS died 14 years later on October 22, 2016, after undergoing surgery to repair a ruptured intestine. 

I've always kept a special spot in my heart for MONARCHOS. Aside from being the dashing, gunmetal gray that he is, his turn of foot was spectacular and unstoppable on his best day.

I will always remember with a smile, how he smoked my favorite horse POINT GIVEN — canning all my Triple Crown hopes! For that, I've always saluted MONARCHOS and his thunderous late kick, which is how I'll remember him by.  2001 Kentucky Derby Video Replay (Full Broadcast):


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