During many world-class sporting events you can expect the possibility of record-setting performances. The 2016 summer Olympics, for example, saw 19 new world records set. The Kentucky Derby, however, is not one of them. The winning horses are running just as fast as they were in the 1950s, completing the 10 furlong (1.25 mi) race at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky in just over 122 seconds.
That wasn’t always the case. Through the first half of the 20th century, winning times steadily fell. Now, the sport has appeared to have hit a speed limit. The wall has been blamed on both equine genetics, as well as unfair comparisons to other sports in which venues and equipment have changed in ways benefitting record breaking.
Excluding track conditions that have not been designated by Churchill Downs as “fast”—that is to say when the track is not “completely dry and at optimal efficiency”—winning times have been even more consistent over the years.
Every Derby winner since 1939 has completed the race in under 125 seconds on a “fast” track, but only two Derby winners have ever completed the race in under two minutes: Secretariat in 1973 with a time of 1:59.40 and Monarchos in 2001 with a time of 1:59.97. Secretariat went on to win the remaining two legs of the Triple Crown.