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Top Kentucky Derby Trainers


The Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs is the big prize all owners of 3-year-old thoroughbreds lust after. For a trainer to win this race is the highlight of his career, and only a select few have won this race more than once. Here are those elite trainers who have won the Kentucky Derby twice or more. While most are long gone and part of history, a few are still training and could have a horse in this year's Kentucky Derby.

1. Ben A. Jones

Kentucky Derby History
© Cindy Pierson Dulay
Ben Jones is the only trainer so far to have six Kentucky Derby winners: Lawrin (1938), Whirlaway (1941), Pensive (1944), Citation (1948), Ponder (1949), Hill Gail (1952). He trained from 1909 through 1953 and all of his Derby winners except the first came during the period he trained for the powerful Calumet Farm stable. While he was the trainer of record for this last three Derby winners, he was semi-retired since 1946 and trained with his son, Jimmy Jones.

Wikipedia bio

2. Henry J. Thompson

Henry Thompson had four Kentucky Derby winners: Behave Yourself (1921), Bubbling Over (1926), Burgoo King (1932), Brokers Tip (1933). Twice he even had the first and second place finishers in the race. He began training for E.J. (Lucky) Baldwin on the West Coast, and after seven years moved east to train for Col. E.R. Bradley and stayed with his stable for the rest of his career. All his Derby winners for for Bradley's stable. Probably his most famous Derby winner was Broker's Tip who beat Head Play in the infamous "Fighting Finish" Derby of 1933.

Fighting Finish photo

3. D. Wayne Lukas

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas
© Cindy Pierson Dulay
D. Wayne Lukas has had four Kentucky Derby winners so far: Winning Colors (1988), Thunder Gulch (1995), Grindstone (1996), Charismatic (1999). Lukas has been training since 1974 and has conditioned more champions than any other trainer in history. Most dominant in the 1980's and 90's, he has been more low profile recently. In fact, 2001 was the first time in 20 years that he didn't have a horse entered in the Derby. So far he as had 42 horses to run in the Derby, the last being Going Wild in 2005. His legacy lives on in his assistants who have gone out successfully on their own, such as Todd Pletcher, Kiaran McLaughlin, and Dallas Stewart.  Lukas is also a member of the Horse Racing Hall of Fame.

Charismatic wins the 1999 Derby
Wikipedia bio
NTRA bio

4. Bob Baffert

Trainer Bob Baffert
© Cindy Pierson Dulay
Bob Baffert has trainer three Kentucky Derby winners so far: Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), War Emblem (2002). He also has a top contender for the 2009 Derby, Pioneerof the Nile. Through 2008, Baffert has won 8 Triple Crown races, 7 Breeders' Cup races, trained 10 champions, and led the nation in earnings three consecutive years in 1998-2000. All 3 of his Derby winners went on to win the Preakness but failed to complete the Triple Crown, losing in the Belmont Stakes. Baffert is a also a member of the Horse Racing Hall of Fame.

War Emblem wins the 1998 Derby
Real Quiet wins the 1998 Derby
Silver Charm wins the 1997 Derby
Baffert's Derby starters

5. James Fitzsimmons

James "Sunny Jim" Fitzsimmons had three Kentucky Derby winners: Gallant Fox (1930), Omaha (1935), Johnstown (1939). His career lasted 70 years and included two Triple Crown winners, two of the world's leading money-winners, and 11 Derby starters. His two Derby winners came during the time he trained for William Woodward's Belair Stable, and later he trained for the Phipps family until the end of his career. His most famous Derby loser was probably Nashua, who lost as the favorite to Swaps in 1955 but went on to be Horse of the Year.

Wikipedia bio

6. Max Hirsch

Max Hirsch had three Kentucky Derby winners: Bold Venture (1936), Assault (1946), Middleground (1950). His career lasted 70 years and he was the trainer for King Ranch from the 1930's until his death in 1969. His best known horse was Assault, the Triple Crown winner of 1946, but he also trained Sarazen, Horse of the Year 1924-25.

Wikipedia bio

7. Nick Zito

Trainer Nick Zito
© Cindy Pierson Dulay
Nick Zito has trained two Kentucky Derby winners so far: Strike the Gold (1991), Go for Gin (1994). He began training in 1972 and has had 20 Derby starters through 2008. He has also won 1 Preakness and 2 Belmonts, giving him 5 wins, 8 seconds, and 7 thirds from his 60 Triple Crown starters so far. His two Belmont wins are remembered for breaking up the last two Triple Crown bids, with Birdstone defeating Smarty Jones in 2004, and Da' Tara defeating Big Brown in 2008. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005.

Wikipedia bio
NTRA bio

8. Carl Nafzger

Trainer Carl Nafzger
© Cindy Pierson Dulay
Carl Nafzger has trained two Kentucky Derby winners so far: Unbridled (1990), Street Sense (2007). Known for not sending horses to the Derby unless they really have a chance, his two wins come from only three starters. He started out in rodeo and is also a member of the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame and the Professional Bull Riders’ Ring of Honor. After he retired from rodeo he started training and had his first winner in 1971. So far he is the only trainer win both the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and the Kentucky Derby with the same horse, Street Sense.

Street Sense wins the 2007 Derby
Wikipedia bio
NTRA bio

9. Other trainers who have won the Kentucky Derby twice

Since none of them are still training, I will just list the rest of the double Derby winners with a link to their bios.

Lazaro Barrera - Bold Forbes (1976), Affirmed (1978)
Henry Forrest - Kauai King (1966), Forward Pass (1968)
LeRoy Jolley - Foolish Pleasure (1975), Genuine Risk (1980)
H.A. "Jimmy" Jones - Iron Leige (1957), Tim Tam (1958)
Lucien Laurin - Riva Ridge (1972), Secretariat (1973)
Horatio Luro - Decidedly (1962), Northern Dancer (1964)
Woody Stephens - Cannonade (1974), Swale (1984)
Charlie Whittingham - Ferdinand (1986), Sunday Silence (1989)

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