Flashback: Ranking Winning Colors’ greatest races

Flashback: Ranking Winning Colors’ greatest races
Photo: Courtesy Churchill Downs

On Saturday at Churchill Downs, the legacy of the sensational filly Winning Colors will be commemorated with the running of the $150,000 Winning Colors (G3), a six-furlong sprint for fillies and mares.

It’s fitting that Churchill Downs honors Winning Colors with her own race – after all, two of her career-defining efforts came over Louisville’s legendary oval.

In advance of her namesake race, let’s rank Winning Colors’ four greatest performances:

#4: 1988 Santa Anita Oaks (G1)

When an eight-length demolition of the Santa Anita Oaks (G1) is only the fourth-best effort of a career, you know you’re looking at an elite racehorse. Winning Colors left no doubt about her superiority in Santa Anita’s signature race for sophomore fillies, sprinting to the front through fast fractions of :22 2/5, :45 4/5, and 1:10 flat before drawing away under a vigorous hand ride to trounce her pursuers (including future Kentucky Oaks winner Goodbye Halo) in 1:42 flat.

#3: 1988 Santa Anita Derby (G1)

As impressive as Winning Colors was in the Santa Anita Oaks, she elevated her game to another level entirely in the Santa Anita Derby. Facing males for the first time, Winning Colors led from gate to wire, blazing through remarkable fractions of :22 1/5, :45 3/5, and 1:09 2/5 before powering clear to score by 7 1/2 lengths. Her final time of 1:47 4/5 was fast, and her beaten rivals included past or future Grade 1 winners Ruhlmann, Lively One, Mi Preferido and Tejano.

#2: 1988 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1)

One of Winning Colors’ most legendary efforts was a losing one. In the 1998 Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Churchill Downs, Winning Colors squared off against a deep field, including the undefeated Personal Ensign and Kentucky Oaks winner Goodbye Halo. Employing bold front-running tactics as usual, Winning Colors carved out the pace over a muddy track, then failed by just a nose to stem off Personal Ensign in one of the greatest Breeders’ Cup races of all time.

#1: 1988 Kentucky Derby (G1)

Winning Colors’ indisputable career highlight came in the Kentucky Derby, four weeks after her Santa Anita Derby romp. Dashing to the lead, Winning Colors opened up a daylight advantage through splits of 23 flat, :46 4/5, and 1:11 2/5, then fought on with tenacity down the homestretch to defeat reigning champion juvenile Forty Niner by a thrilling neck in 2:02 1/5. Future Preakness (G1) and Belmont (G1) winner Risen Star finished another three lengths back in third place, so it’s safe to say Winning Colors defeated a strong field. She remains the most recent filly to claim victory in the Run for the Roses.

Which of Winning Colors’ signature performances would you rank as your favorite?

J. Keeler Johnson is a writer, videographer, handicapper and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. You can follow him on Twitter at @J_Keelerman.

Top Stories

With the Belmont Stakes in the rearview mirror aft...
Louisville, Ky. So far this year, Norm Casse has a...
Ready or not, racing fans, England’s prestigious R...
Bob Baffert is suing the New York Racing Associati...
Keep track of Graded Stakes on HRN: Stakes Schedul...