LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Local residents are used to mob scenes at Kentucky Derby time.
But even the natives marveled yesterday when about 2,000 people, many of them the racing beautiful people, lined the rails of the backstretch at Churchill Downs at 9 a.m. Others stood four-deep near the finish line and parked along streets and peaked through the chain-link fence.
They were there to catch a glimpse of Arazi in his first, and only, speed work before tomorrow's big race.
"I've never seen anything like this, even in 1973 when Secretariat was here" said John Fililiatreau, who has covered 20 derbies and is now a writer for Louisville Magazine.
"The best thing I like is the people lined up outside the fence," said Barry Weisbord, founder of the American Championship Racing Series. "It shows there are still people interested in racing and in horses."
The workout provided abundant drama.
Pat Valenzuela, the horse's Derby rider who has a quixotic reputation, fell off Arazi just moments after they set foot on the track.
The incident took place in the mile chute -- out of sight from most spectators -- when the horse wheeled.
Valenzuela landed on his feet, held onto the reins and quickly jumped back on.
"He did the same thing when I got on him before the Breeders' Cup last fall," Valenzuela said.
Francois Boutin, who the locals refer to as Frankie Bootin,' later said Arazi throws off all his jockeys.
Arazi first galloped a mile in company with his constant companion, 3-year-old Akiko.
Ted Carr, manager of Allen Paulson's Brookside Farm in Versailles, Ky., said Paulson also owns Akiko. Paulson is well-known as Arazi's co-owner.
"Akiko was the pacesetter for Arazi in the Prix Omnium [the French prep race won by Arazi]," Carr said. "Akiko is a homebred colt we raised and sired by Strawberry Road. He's a good allowance horse and might be stakes-quality if he ran in this country. But he's strictly used as Arazi's pony."
The horses came to a stop after their mile gallop, then walked up to the five-eighths pole and broke off with Akiko about two lengths in front.
By the time the horses reached the quarter pole, Arazi had caught Akiko and swept by him in the stretch.
Daily Racing Form clockers timed the five-eighths of a mile drill in 1 minute, 3 1/5 seconds, with the last quarter clocked in 24 1/5 seconds.
"At no time did I ask him to run," Valenzuela said. "There is no doubt in my mind that this horse will win the Kentucky Derby. Everyone else is running for second place. I am more confident now than when I rode Sunday Silence [and won in 1989]. Easy Goer was in that race. But there is no one like that to worry about this time."
Valenzuela took off his riding helmet and showed reporters a medal that he has attached to the hat for good luck. It's a likeness of Pope Paul VI "and was blessed by the Holy Father," he said.
After the workout, the Boutin camp was all smiles, including Anthony Stroud, the English racing manager for Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum's Darley Stud Management Co., which owns the other half of Arazi.
Stroud said a decision will be made within an hour after the Derby concerning the horse's next start.
There were reports from English journalists yesterday that Boutin has chartered a jet to return Arazi to Paris on Sunday morning.
Stroud would not confirm this, but Simon Cooper of the London-based International Racing Bureau said it's conceivable.
"They [Boutin and Sheik Mohammed] are not going to let Paulson keep this horse in this country like he did right after the Breeders' Cup," Cooper said. "Boutin wants him back in Paris and he wants him back there fast. But then again, it might end up in the hands of the lawyers."