Undefeated favorite Essential Quality has everyone asking: Wait — how many gray horses have won the Kentucky Derby?

Undefeated favorite Essential Quality has everyone asking: Wait — how many gray horses have won the Kentucky Derby?

Essential Quality is set to go off as the overwhelming favorite in the 147th Run for the Roses.
Essential Quality is set to go off as the overwhelming favorite in the 147th Run for the Roses.
Illustration: AP

There’s this phrase in thoroughbred racing, it goes one of two ways: “always bet the grays” or “never bet the grays.” [Ed. note: My uncles were firmly in the “never” category — R.O.]

Superstitious? Sure. Valid? Well, it depends on who you ask. But in one particular big race, it’s pretty one-sided.

The Kentucky Derby’s 147th Run for the Roses is on Saturday. But only eight grays have ever trotted into the winners circle. And we haven’t had a gray winner since 2005.

So, yes, a gray horse has won before but it’s exceedingly rare. And you thought a Triple Crown was!

This year, there are two gray horses in the running: Essential Quality and Soup and Sandwich.

Essential Quality is undefeated and a 2-1 favorite in this year’s Run for the Roses. The colt is also the first gray horse favored to win the Derby in 25 years. So could this actually be the year to bet on Gray?

If he wins, he would join this rare breed of champions.

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Determine, 1954 

Determine, 1954 

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The 1954 winner cruised in at two minutes and three seconds. He would later sire another Kentucky Derby winner.

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Decidedly, 1962

Decidedly, 1962

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The gray colt Decidedly was the son of… drum roll, please! Determined! Eight years after his father won the Run for the Roses, Decidedly did the trick in juuuuust over two minutes.

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Spectacular Bid, 1979

Spectacular Bid, 1979

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Spectacular Bid made a legit bid to give the racing world a third straight Triple Crown champion after Seattle Slew (1977) and Affirmed (1978). After taking the first two legs, he came in third in the Belmont Stakes after sustaining a foot injury, snapping a 12-win streak. This stallion had a gray face and spots of gray all over his otherwise brown body. But that still counts for this record book.

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Gato Del Sol, 1982

Gato Del Sol, 1982

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He was winless in his three-year-old season before entering and winning the Kentucky Derby, going off at 21-1 Shockingly, Gato Del Sol was held out of the Preakness, becoming the first horse in 23 years that won the Derby and did not go for the Triple Crown. (He later finished a distant second in the Belmont.)

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Winning Colors, 1988

Winning Colors, 1988

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Trained by D. Wayne Lukas and with a signature white streak on her nose, the Hall-of-Fame horse is one of three fillies to ever win the Kentucky Derby. The other two are Genuine Risk (1980) and Regret (1915). She also placed third in the Preakness.

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Silver Charm, 1997

Silver Charm, 1997

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At six Kentucky Derby wins, Bob Baffert is tied with Ben Jones for most trainer wins in the famed race at six. He got his first win in 1997 with Silver Charm.

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Monarchos, 2001

Monarchos, 2001

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They call it the fastest two minutes in sports. But in 2001, Monarchos ran through the roses at 1:59.97. Secretariat, the greatest racehorse ever, holds the course record of 1:59.4 set in 1973. When you come that close to nipping Secretariat? Hoo boy, that’s fast.

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Giacomo, 2005

Giacomo, 2005

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Going off at 50-1 (!), Giacomo was the third-greatest longshot to win the Derby, stunning the favorite Afleet Alex. He remains, to date, the last gray horse to don the roses in the winner’s circle.

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