Long the most popular event on the racing calendar, the Derby is not considered the most significant by expert horsemen. Many say the Belmont Stakes, for example, is a truer test of classic horses. It is suggested that in recent years the Derby has also lost some of its class, only its long history having saved it from becoming just one $100,000 race among dozens of others. In the first 16 years after the ' Daily Racing Form' began choosing the Horse of the Year, five Derby winners were voted that honor (*) in the year of their victory; in the last 16 years no Derby winner earned it.
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At left are the first three finishers in the Derby since 1936. SPORTS ILLUSTRATED asked eight experienced horsemen to review the list and name the three they considered the best, judging them on the class, speed and stamina that are the essential requirements of a classic winner. Their choices:
Nearly all of the experts' choices among Derby horses competed more than a decade ago. Only Damascus, of those who raced in the past 12 years, received a vote as being best of all, and only he was included in the top three. Interestingly, he did not win the Derby. Citation failed to make the list of only one expert.