Valley thoroughbreds make mark on Kentucky Derby history

Ahead of the 149th running of the Kentucky Derby, handicapper Robbie D. Rodriguez details the indelible history of Valley horses in the race.

The 149th Running of the Kentucky Derby will be run this Saturday, May 6, 2023.  The Derby will have a full field of 20 horses racing, with each horse having qualified by earning enough points by performance in designated qualifying stakes races ran in the United States, Dubai, England, Ireland, France, and Japan leading up to the Kentucky Derby.  The top point earning horses make it in the Derby.  

Sixty-one years ago, George Pope Jr. and his wife Patricia, won the 1962 Kentucky Derby with California homebred Decidedly, who was bred, foaled, and raised in Madera, Calif. at El Peco Ranch.  Two years later in 1964, Hill Rise was another horse bred, foaled, and raised in Madera, Calif. by the Pope’s.   Hill Rise ran second losing only by a nose to Northern Dancer.  Northern Dancer went on to become one of the most prolific stallions in thoroughbred history.


Another historical thoroughbred from Madera is Wishing Well. She was foaled on April 12, 1975 for the Pope’s at El Peco Ranch and had 12 wins out of 36 career races.  After racing, she was bred to Halo and had a colt named Sunday Silence.  

2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner California Chrome was bred, foaled, and raised at Harris Farms in Coalinga.  California Chrome was recently elected to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame is currently a stallion in Japan.  

The 2017 Kentucky Derby was won by Always Dreaming.  His dam, Above Perfection was bred, foaled and raised by the Johnston family’s Old English Rancho in Sanger. 

Sunday Silence won the 1989 Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, but lost his Triple Crown attempt to Easy Goer.  In one of racing’s greatest rivalries, Sunday Silence then defeated Easy Goer in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.  

After a remarkable career, Sunday Silence was sent to Japan and was the Leading sire in Japan for thirteen consecutive years between 1995 and 2007.  Sunday Silence’s progeny is linked to 2023 Derby contenders Derma Sotogake and Continuar.  

Another Derby runner with pedigree traceable back to the Valley is Rocket Can.  Two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic winner and Horse of the Year, Tiznow, was bred foaled and raised at Harris Farms in Coalinga. Tiznow is the great grand sire on the dam side of Rocket Can.

Thoroughbreds have only one opportunity in his/her lifetime to race in the Kentucky Derby because only three years old horses are eligible, so there is a new crop of 3 year old horses each year.

No matter what horse you wager on, or who you’re rooting for in the Kentucky Derby, I hope you will appreciate the amazing athleticism, brilliance, and beauty that Thoroughbred racing has to offer in the Kentucky Derby.

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