Triple Crown Near-Misses: Bimelech Goes Wide in the Derby

Bimelech was a freight train heading straight for the Kentucky Derby, and it seemed like nothing could stop him; undefeated in eight starts, he had won six straight en route to the 1939 Two-Year-Old Champion Male Horse of the Year. However, some bad decisions -both on and off the track – kept him from becoming a Triple Crown winner.

The Edward R. Bradley-owned colt took most of the winter and early spring off in 1940, but still took the Blue Grass Stakes with ease. His trainer, Bill Hurley, thought he needed to shed some extra weight, so he entered him in the Derby Trial only five days after the Blue Grass and three days before the Kentucky Derby. Bimelech responded at first with a win in the Derby Trial, beating a colt named Gallahadion by 2 1/2 lengths.


The unbeaten colt was a 2-5 favorite for the Derby – the first odds-on favorite in Derby history – and seemed to be a cinch to win. But it was his third race in eight days.

He was in good position, trailing the pacesetter, Roman, by 1 1/2 lengths for the first six furlongs. But jockey Fred Smith sent Bimelech wide around the turn, and as he passed Roman heading into the homestretch, he careened sharply toward the center of the track, losing valuable ground and leading Dit by 1/2 length.

Gallahadion, making his move on the rail on a ground-saving trip, shot past both horses to shock the crowd of 95,000 with one of the biggest upsets in Derby history.

Bimelech exacted his revenge in the Preakness. Again going off as the odds-on favorite, he went to the front this time and never looked back, fighting off a hard-charging Mioland. Gallahadion finished third.

2 for 3

After a loss in the Withers Stakes, Bimelech was “only” a 6-5 favorite going into the Belmont Stakes. It seemed like a replay of the Derby; he stalked leader Andy K. for a mile as Gallahadion ran with him.

On the far turn, though, Gallahadion faded, leaving only Bimelech to challenge Andy K. Despite another wide trip, this time around Belmont’s long turn, Bimelech still had enough in the tank to beat Your Chance by 3/4 of a length.

Bimelech won one more race before his trainer, Bill Hurley, discovered that he had an injured foot. He was still voted Three-Year-Old Champion Male Horse of the Year. 

In 1941, the year starting gates made their debut on most tracks, Bimelech won one of two races, but he hated the new machines so much that his owner was forced to retire him.

His final record: 11 wins, 2 seconds and 1 third in 15 starts – good enough for #84 among the Top Thoroughbreds of the 20th Century, according to Blood-Horse magazine.