Spokane, Montana’s Kentucky Derby Legacy
This Saturday it’s the 143rd running of the famed Kentucky Derby, the longest continually held sporting event in America.The derby is often called the most exciting two minutes in all of sports. There has only been one horse born and trained in Montana to ever win the Kentucky Derby and that is Spokane.
The old barn is still there…now 135 years old. Many of you have driven by the big three-story red barn located just north of Twin Bridges. But how many of you know its history?
Back is 1886 Noah Armstrong was on a business trip when he received the news that a colt had been born in that barn. Since Mr. Armstrong was in Spokane at the time that’s what he named the colt.
Spokane’s first race was in Chicago and the horse came in 4th. After a couple of wins Armstrong decided to enter Spokane in the Kentucky Derby.
On May 9th, 1889 a crowd of over 25,000 were on hand at Churchill Downs for the 15th running of the Kentucky Derby. Spokane was a long shot at ten to one. The overwhelming favorite was Proctor Knott. At the mid way mark Proctor Knott had a huge 5 length lead! Suddenly Spokane came on strong. A reporter from the San Francisco Examiner wrote, “There was silence of death in the grandstand.. Every eye was watching the desperate battle and breathlessly awaiting the outcome.”
Near the end Spokane surged ahead to win by a nose. Spokane’s time of two minutes and thirty-four seconds would set a new Kentucky Derby record! After the derby Spokane would win the Clark Stakes and the American Derby. Wining the Triple Crown of his day!
That same San Francisco newsman summed up the race like this, “Never on that historic track has there ever been so great a derby, never has that classic race been run with greater credit to the winner.”
By the way the year that Spokane became the first and to the day only Montana bred horse to win the Kentucky Derby was also the same year that Montana was admitted to the union.