The finish of the 2019 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) - Coady Photography

The finish of the 2019 Kentucky Derby (G1) – Coady Photography

Was it just me, or was there a major horse racing upset virtually every weekend in 2019?

With multiple divisions producing chaos throughout the year, narrowing down a list of the five greatest upsets in 2019 is easier said than done. There’s more to a memorable upset than the pari-mutuel payoff. A 1-10 favorite losing to a 9-1 shot might be just as surprising as a 123-1 shot winning a wide-open race.

There were so many upsets in 2019 that we’ll limit our list to focus exclusively on grade 1 races.

5. Belvoir Bay leads all the way in Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint

Belvoir Bay’s 14-1 victory in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) wasn’t terribly shocking. It’s the context that makes her performance extraordinary. Just two years earlier Belvoir Bay suffered burns during the tragic fire at San Luis Rey Training Center. Her trainer didn’t even know her whereabouts for a time, after she was released from her stall to escape the flames. For her to return two years later and upset the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint was nothing short of amazing.

4. Former claimer Nucky pulls away in Del Mar Futurity

Nucky wasn’t supposed to win the Del Mar Futurity (G1). Off a maiden claiming victory, he was disregarded at 35-1, as bettors flocked to support heavy favorite Eight Rings. But shortly after the start, Eight Rings took a sharp left turn and collided with future Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) winner Storm the Court, which caused both horses to lose their riders. With the two best runners out of the race, Nucky pressed a fast pace and somehow kicked away down the lane to score by 2 3/4 lengths. We’re still scratching our heads, wondering what happened.

3. Math Wizard posts a shocker in Pennsylvania Derby

There’s a reason why Math Wizard was 31-1 in the Pennsylvania Derby (G1). He’d been soundly beaten in the West Virginia Derby (G3), and he was lining up against a deep field that featured Preakness Stakes (G1) winner War of Will, Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) victor Improbable and future Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) winner Spun to Run. But as the field charged down the homestretch, it was Math Wizard who produced the strongest stretch kick, and he rolled past everyone to win by a neck. On paper the result seemed impossible.

2. Mongolian Groom denies McKinzie in Awesome Again Stakes

McKinzie was supposed to win the Awesome Again Stakes (G1) with ease. A dominant winner of the Whitney Stakes (G1), McKinzie towered over the field and was favored at 3-10. But a speed-favoring track, a slow pace and a huge performance from longshot Mongolian Groom combined to produce a thoroughly unexpected result. McKinzie made his move in the stretch. He drew within a half-length o Mongolian Groom at the eighth pole, and then the favorite shockingly came up empty, as Mongolian Groom re-broke and powered home in front at 25-1.

1. Country House rides DQ to 65-1 Kentucky Derby upset

The Kentucky Derby (G1) has been contested 145 times, and only one horse has ever triggered a bigger payoff than Country House. After he lost a trio of Kentucky Derby prep races, bettors concluded Country House had no chance to cross the wire first at Churchill Downs and sent him off at 65-1. In a way they were right—Country House crossed the wire second. But the controversial disqualification of Maximum Security elevated Country House to the winner’s circle and rewarded his few supporters with a massive $132.40 win payoff. It could be decades before we witness an upset of equal caliber in the Kentucky Derby.