Countdown to the Derby with Matt Winn: Regret, 1915

May 6th 2011 08:30 am |

Many historians have pointed to 1915 as a turning point for the Kentucky Derby, when it became the spectacle that it is today. Why is 1915 seen as such a significant year? I would surmise that it was because Colonel Matt J. Winn said so.

In his 1945 autobiography, he put the victory of Regret, the first filly to ever win the Kentucky Derby in 1915, as the moment things changed.

Here is how the father of the Kentucky Derby described it in Down the Stretch:

“By that time, I was concentrating on plans for the 1915 Derby wherein a filly, named Regret, put us over the top in the effort to get national recognition. She was owned by Harry Payne Whitney, and was the only thoroughbred of her sex to gain such glory.

As a 2 year old, running on the New York tracks, Regret was unbeaten in three starts and was the 2 year old money-winning champion. Whitney promised to nominate her for the Derby and did. [Jim] Butler [owner of the Empire City racetrack in New York] nominated Pebbles, which had been among the Keene yearlings of 1913. Other Eastern-owned horses were nominated, and the Derby, for the first time since we took over, had truly national representation.

It needed only a victory by Regret to create for us some coast-to-coast publicity, and Regret did not fail us. She took an almost immediate lead in a field of 16, held it all the way, and won by 2 lengths, on a fast track, in 2:05 2/5. The Derby thus was “made” as an American institution, and although it has moved along well on its own momentum since then, I never have ceased in the effort to keep it in the spotlight.”

It’s amazing what a great filly can do for publicity – just as Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra did for racing the last few years, Regret did something similar in 1915.

It took another sixty-five years for another filly to win the Derby.  Genuine Risk did it in 1980 and Winning Colors followed in 1988. Those two, along with Regret, have the rare distinction of being the only fillies among the long list of Kentucky Derby winners.

I’ll have one more post on Derby morning. Happy handicapping today…let me know who you like.

Source: Down the Stretch the Story of Colonel Matt J. Winn as told to Frank G. Mecke (1945)

Filed in Churchill Downs,Countdown to Derby,Kentucky Derby,Regret,thoroughbred racing history,Winn, Matt J.

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