LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- D. Wayne Lukas stormed into Louisville firing from both barrels. One of his bullets hit the bull's eye.
Grindstone, part of Lukas' record five-horse entry, ran down 13 horses in the final half-mile to win the 122nd Kentucky Derby yesterday at Churchill Downs. His photo-finish win over Cavonnier was the closest Derby finish since 1959, when Tomy Lee nipped Sword Dancer by a nose.
"We've still got that team depth," said Lukas, referring to the two or three horses he'll bring to Baltimore. "But that number is getting pretty high. I don't know if my leap's quite that high."
Grindstone won in only his sixth start for owner William T. Young's Overbrook Farm. The brown colt is a son of 1990 Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled -- but not the son who stole the show in the days leading to the Derby.
Unbridled's Song, the most celebrated one, finished fifth after gliding to a two-length lead around the last turn. A tepid favorite at 7-to-2 -- the 17th straight losing Derby favorite -- he faded under the weight of heavy misfortune.
He raced wearing bar shoes on his front feet to protect a tender right front foot, which he injured three weeks ago winning the Wood Memorial. His jockey, Mike Smith, equated the orthopedic shoes to "wearing combat boots and trying to run a footrace. It was just too much to overcome."
Unbridled's Song's owner, Ernie Paragallo, who had tempted the gods of wagering by predicting that his horse not only would win the Triple Crown, but also never would lose another race, disappeared into the horse's barn after the race and was not available to comment.
Another Lukas-trained horse, Prince of Thieves, finished third, giving Lukas his second straight one-third finish in the Derby; last year it was Thunder Gulch and Timber Country.
Sonny Hine, trainer of Bluegrass winner Skip Away, who finished a disappointing 12th, had said before the race: "Wayne's shooting buckshot. He hopes to hit something."
And Lukas did.
Grindstone's winning time of 2 minutes, 1 second over the 1 1/4 -mile track was the sixth-fastest in Derby history, and the fastest since Spend A Buck in 1985.
On an overcast afternoon with temperatures near 80 degrees, the third-largest crowd in Derby history -- 142,668 -- watched 19 3-year-old colts and geldings in horse racing's premier event.
After the race Lukas, racing's premier trainer, was choked with emotion.
"This is absolutely the happiest I've ever been . . . . to win one for Bill Young," Lukas said.
Young, 78, is one of Kentucky's most popular and philanthropic horse racing personalities. The story of Grindstone is one example why.
To benefit the Kentucky Derby Museum in Louisville, Young bid $30,000 in a charity auction for the right to one breeding with Unbridled. His breeding advisers chose his mare Buzz My Bell. The result of that union was Grindstone.
"I've always felt if you give you get back twice as much," said Young, trim and tanned, with one red rose sticking out of his suit coat pocket. The winner's share of the $1,169,800 Derby purse was $869,800. This was Young's first Kentucky Derby victory -- although of the six straight Lukas Triple Crown wins, Young provided the horses for four: Tabasco Cat in 1994's Preakness and Belmont, Timber Country in last year's Preakness, and now Grindstone.
Grindstone had raced only five times before yesterday, winning twice, including the Louisiana Derby. He is the first Louisiana Derby winner since 1924 to triumph in the Kentucky Derby.
Jockey Jerry Bailey led him on a smooth trip through rush-hour traffic. After breaking 15th from the No. 15 post position, he tried to place the colt where he would avoid bottlenecks.
"I intentionally tried to find him a little spot where nobody else was," Bailey said. "I felt the cleaner that you could get around the first turn and into the backstretch with no bumping or jostling, the more you're going to have for the finish.
"Believe me, it worked out that way. I never had to check once. I never lost momentum. I picked all the right spots, and that's what made the difference."
Grindstone was 14th with a half-mile to run. Following Pat Day on Prince of Thieves, Bailey guided Grindstone inside along the final turn, and then swung him five wide entering the homestretch.
He caught Cavonnier, who was charging under Chris McCarron, at the wire by a nose. The finish was so close it took judges five minutes to decide the winner.
"Man, I thought I'd won it," said Bob Baffert, trainer of Cavonnier, the Santa Anita Derby victor. "That was a good race. Oh man, what can I say? It was a great day, a great race."
It was not great for Carolyn and Sonny Hine, owner and trainer of Skip Away. Carolyn is a Baltimore native and Sonny a former longtime Maryland trainer.
After breaking from the far outside No. 16 post position, Skip Away got caught five wide around the first turn and finished 12th.
"The post position didn't help, but really, he didn't get hold of the track," Sonny Hine said. "We will be going to Monmouth Monday morning, and if he comes back good we'll see you at Pimlico."
Pub Date: 5/05/96
1. Grindstone, $13.80, $6, $4
2. Cavonnier, $6.20, $4.40
3. Prince of Thieves, $4.60
Other notable finishes:
5. Unbridled's Song
6. Editor's Note
12. Skip Away
K? Trainer D. Wayne Lukas' consecutive Triple Crown victories:
... Race ..... Horse
'94 .. Preak. ... Tabasco Cat
'94 .. Belmont .. Tabasco Cat
'95 .. Derby .... Thunder Gulch
'95 .. Preak. ... Timber Country
'95 .. Belmont .. Thunder Gulch
'96 .. Derby .... Grindstone