The Kentucky Derby hasn't always been kind to favorites. Any number of factors go into this, not the least of which is the huge field the Kentucky Derby annually attracts. With upwards of 20 starters crowding into the Kentucky Derby starting gate, trouble can be found along every step. Luck certainly plays a role.
However, there have been a handful of extremely heavy Kentucky Derby favorites that managed to live up to their pre-race acclaim. Perhaps not surprisingly, the three heaviest favorites to win the Kentucky Derby would all go on to become Triple Crown winners and the fourth, Spectacular Bid, probably should have been a Triple Crown winner.
Citation, winner of the 1948 Triple Crown, and 1943 Triple Crown winner Count Fleet are tied as the heaviest favorites to win the Kentucky Derby. Both horses paid $2.80, or 40 cents on the dollar, for taking the run for the roses.
Citation, who was owned and bred by the legendary Calumet Farm of central Kentucky, was a star among stars from day one. As a juvenile he won eight of nine starts and would be named North America's champion 2-year-old. The following year he would add four more victories during the run-up to the Kentucky Derby, which caused bettors to make Citation the heavy odds-on favorite on the first Saturday in May. Citation rewarded his backers by cruising to an easy 4 1/2-length win in the Kentucky Derby and would go on to add the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes to become Thoroughbred racing's eighth Triple Crown winner. Citation was named Horse of the Year during his Triple Crown season 1948 and in 1951 would go on to be named North America's champion older horse.
Count Fleet was similar to Citation in that he was also named North America's champion 2-year-old prior to his run at Triple Crown glory. Count Fleet would win New York's prestigious Wood Memorial Stakes in his final tuneup for the Kentucky Derby. In the run for the roses, Count Fleet rewarded his backers with an easy three-length victory as the heavy odds-on favorite. Count Fleet would go undefeated his entire 3-year-old year and would be named Horse of the Year.
Seattle Slew became the third-biggest favorite to win the Kentucky Derby when he scored at 50 cents on the dollar ($3 dollars returned for each $2 wagered) in 1977. Seattle Slew also became the first horse to ever win the Kentucky Derby while undefeated. He was a perfect 3-for-3 as juvenile and would win all three of his Kentucky Derby prep races as a 3-year-old. Seattle Slew would add wins in the Preakness Stakes and Belmont to become racing's 10th Triple Crown winner.
Other notable horses to win the Kentucky Derby as heavy favorites include Johnstown, who paid $3.20 when winning the 1939 Kentucky Derby and Worth, who returned $3.60 when winning the 1912 run for the roses.