When people ask me what my favorite Kentucky Derby was, I always respond with the 1990 edition won by Unbridled. It was my most memorable for several personal reasons: It was my first Kentucky Derby in person, I was a big fan of the strapping son of Fappiano, I talked many of my college buddies into playing the 10-1 shot, and who can ever forget the wonderful Carl Nafzger–Frances Genter scene that unfolded in the stretch run. If not for that special day, my answer would probably be the edition run exactly ten years earlier and coincidentally on my father’s first Derby in person, when Genuine Risk became the first filly in 65 years to win the Run for the Roses.
A gorgeous chestnut filly with a sizeable white blaze, Genuine Risk stormed through her juvenile campaign, winning all four of her starts within a span of just 48 days. Owned by Mr. and Mrs. Bertram Firestone, she won her debut in a sloppy 6 ½ furlong race at Belmont Park on September 30, 1979. The daughter of Exclusive Native then proceeded to dominate a one mile allowance and the Grade 3 Tempted Stakes, both at Aqueduct, in her next two starts. She capped off her perfect season with a courageous nose decision over the leader of the division, Smart Angle, to account for the Demoiselle Stakes on November 17. In a decision that I always wondered about, Smart Angle was named the champion juvenile filly, despite losing to the undefeated, Genuine Risk. In fairness to the voters, Smart Angle had won six stakes that season.
After the demanding win in the nine furlong win in the Demoiselle, trainer Leroy Jolley gave his burgeoning star some R&R at the Firestone’s Farm in Virginia, before bringing her back in a seven furlong allowance race at Gulfstream Park on March 19. An easy 2 ½ length victory stretched her record to five-for-five, and after a couple of losses by Smart Angle, she arrived back to New York as the best sophomore filly in the land. In her next start, she scored by 2 ¼ lengths in a one-mile handicap race at Aqueduct. The race, over a track listed as good, would be her last race against the girls for more than five months.
The distance bred Genuine Risk, (her sire was just two years removed from having his son, Affirmed, become racing’s eleventh Triple Crown champion, and her broodmare sire, Gallant Man, was a romping winner of the Belmont Stakes) would use the Grade 1 Wood Memorial as not only her introduction to racing against the males, but also as a prep for a run in the Kentucky Derby. Sent off at 8-1 in a loaded Wood field, the undefeated filly tasted defeat for the first time, but ran gamely to finish 3rd, beaten just 1 ½ lengths by winner Plugged Nickle. Unlike the winner though, Genuine Risk was on the verge of showing the world that she was would excel at a distance. Two weeks later she would be sent off at 13-1 in the 1980 Kentucky Derby. I will let the filly speak for herself from here.