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What Is Minnesota's History With The Kentucky Derby?

Originally published May 3, 2022

SHAKOPEE, Minn. (WCCO) - When the "Fastest Two Minutes in Sports" storms out the gate this weekend, just know Minnesota has a horse in that race. Two of them to be precise, and one is the favorite.

So what is Minnesota's history with the Kentucky Derby?

In every horse race there's the favorite to win, then the long shot.

But one thing that's more improbable than the potential outcome of this year's Kentucky Derby is a certain pair of thoroughbreds running in it.

"To have two in one year with Minnesota connections, that's a million to one," said Paul Allen, race track announcer at Canterbury Park who is now in his 28th year. "Minnesota, by tradition, is a provincial state. So, therefore, having a couple Minnesota connections to pole four in the biggest race in the world, we think that's pretty cool."

Zandon is owned by Jeff Drown of Clearwater and is the favorite to win at 3-1 odds. Zozos is owned by Barry and Joni Butzow of Eden Prairie and currently sitting at 20-1.

While their owners might call Minnesota home, horses that race in the Kentucky Derby almost never make that claim.

Like so many other horses in the derby, Zandon and Zozos were born in Kentucky. They also were likely trained to race in warmer climates like Florida and Texas.

Allen said horses born and bred in Minnesota typically race in their home state.

Horse Racing Generic
(credit: CBS)

"When they're bred (in Minnesota) and when they race at Canterbury Park, the purses for Minnesota breds are so good that I don't know if owners breed horses in Minnesota even with the Kentucky Derby in mind," he said. "It's not like a Minnesota bred with the right connections, the right father and right mother, couldn't contest for the Kentucky Derby. But I think when people breed Minnesotans, they do it to run at Canterbury Park and to get as much money as they can here."

Minnesota horses also take advantage of the frigid winters by getting an off-season. Allen said they'll spend time on a farm simply being a horse before ramping up their training in the spring before Canterbury's season starts in mid-May.

"It isn't necessarily the most profitable approach to take with a horse, but think it's the best approach for the horse in that's it's not a bump and grind every single month," he said.

What is the pinnacle moment for a Minnesotan-owned horse in the Kentucky Derby?

"Unbridled, Francis Genter, Carl Nafzger, not even close," Allen quickly said.

In 1990, Unbridled got the victory. He was owned by Frances Genter of Minnesota and trained by Carl Nafzger. The horse helped the Bold North put its lone stamp on the derby's storied history. The win also came with an emotional moment as a camera crew captured how Nafzger excitedly gave Genter a play-by-play of Unbridled racing to the lead due to her poor vision.

"It was just so warm and so beautiful," Allen said. "It's a signature moment, not only in the history of horse racing but certainly in the history of Minnesota racing."

Another Minnesota owned horse ran in the derby 20 years ago. It'sallinthechase finished 16th out of 18 in 2002.

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