LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- After teasing his supporters with splendid workouts and a gutsy performance in his final Kentucky Derby prep, Favorite Trick finally ran to his breeding yesterday in the Kentucky Derby.
The 1997 Horse of the Year -- the first 2-year-old Horse of the Year since Secretariat -- Favorite Trick tracked the leaders into the far turn and then flattened out in the stretch. He finished a distant eighth in the 15-horse field.
"He had position to win the race," said his trainer, Bill Mott. "He just didn't do it."
Said his jockey, Pat Day: "He was a bit aggressive leaving the gate, but he came back to me after three or four jumps. He was nice and kind, but he never put his ears up and seemed as comfortable as he had in some of his races.
"He was in a long fluid stride up the backside, and he started easing into contention. I felt real good going past the half-mile pole because I hadn't called on him. But between the three-eighths and the quarter-pole, he just kind of emptied out."
Asked whether Favorite Trick's pedigree finally caught up with him -- he is a son of sprinters -- Day said: "It's possible. He trained well, and it was the first time he had not won on this track. So the racetrack is no excuse. I had no excuses."
Alex Solis suffered his second gut-wrenching Derby loss in a row. Last year, aboard the Gary Capuano-trained Captain Bodgit, he fell a head short to Silver Charm after a heart-throbbing stretch drive. Yesterday, riding Victory Gallop, he fell short by a half length.
"He was flying at the end, but the post position  made the difference," Solis said. "I kept looking to drop inside, but there were so many horses it was impossible. This is such a great horse."
Elliott Walden took over training Victory Gallop last fall from the Pimlico-based Mary Eppler. The horse was sold, and the new owners transferred him to Walden.
"He ran great," Walden said. "He was five-wide on both turns, and that was plenty of trouble. What more can I say?"
'Halory' in the hunt
Rick Pitino's Halory Hunter was fastest at the end, but he started running too late. He finished fourth.
"The race developed the way we thought it would," said Halory Hunter's jockey, Corey Nakatani. "He broke comfortably and settled. Midway in the race he hit himself and came back with a nick on his right hind leg."
Said the colt's trainer, Nick Zito: "Corey said that he had a spot to go through, but he couldn't get there quick enough. So then he had to come around with the horse, and we just got beat a whisker for third. If we'd have had any luck, we'd have been better off.
"I've got a gallant horse, one of the better 3-year-olds in the country. He never runs a bad race."
Chilito fades to 11th
Gary Boulanger, rider of Chilito, trained by the Maryland-based H. Graham Motion, said: "There was more speed in there than I thought. He seemed to settle OK, but I knew I was in trouble at the half-mile pole."
After winning the Flamingo Stakes gate-to-wire, the 34-1 Chilito faded to 11th.
Big betting day
The third-largest crowd in Kentucky Derby history wagered $8,203,774, the largest betting total ever. The crowd bet $17,363,780 on the entire 10-race card, slightly less than the 1996 record.
The total betting on the Derby, counting hundreds of simulcast sites and separate pools in several states, amounted to $56,612,138 -- more than $3 million higher than last year.
Nicholson plays the role
Actor Jack Nicholson stole the show before the race. He walked with Madeleine Paulson, co-owner of Rock and Roll, as they accompanied the horse on the track from the barn to the paddock. The crowd cheered wildly for Nicholson as he came into view.
He stopped in front of the grandstand, held both arms up, and then bowed. Rock and Roll, after contesting for the early lead, wound up 14th, next to last.
In stakes before the Derby, Joyeux Danseur, the even-money favorite, declared himself the top turf runner in the nation with an authoritative 3 1/4 -length victory in the Grade I, $250,000 1 1/8 -mile Early Times Turf Classic.
Despite running wide the entire race, he dominated runner-up Lasting Approval and third-place finisher Hawksley Hill. Ops Smile, the Maryland-bred trained by Bill Boniface, finished sixth.
"He likes to be out there where he's all by himself and running easy, and then he gives me that patented freak run to the finish," said winning jockey Robby Albarado.
Trained by Elliott Walden, Distorted Humor ran away from the field in the Grade II, $166,950 Churchill Downs Handicap to win by 3 1/4 lengths as the 7-5 favorite and set a track record for seven furlongs, 1 minute, 21 seconds. Gold Land finished second and El Amante third.
"Is he a freak or what?" said winning jockey Gary Stevens. "He's as good a sprinter as I've ever sat on. Now it's onto the Met Mile"
In the Grade III, $120,800 Aegon Mile on the turf, Witchful Thinking stalked the pace under Shane Sellers and then pulled off to win by a length over 9-5 favorite Colcon and Swearington. Trained by Niall O'Callaghan, Witchful Thinking paid $12.80 to win.
Colonial Minstrel, the 2-1 favorite, won her fifth straight over a strong field in the Grade III, $115,000 seven-furlong Humana Distaff Handicap. Trained by Mark Hennig and ridden by John Velazquez, she beat Stop Traffic by 1 1/2 lengths. Meter Maid finished third.
Pat Day and D. Wayne Lukas teamed to win the $100,000, five-furlong WHAS-11 Stakes for 2-year-olds with odds-on favorite Yes It's True, a $220,000 yearling purchase at Keeneland. The Is It True colt tied the track record of 57 3/5 seconds. He edged stablemate Tactical Cat by a nose. Alannan finished third. Last year, Favorite Trick won this race in 58 3/5 seconds.
Real Quiet: Broke to the inside bumping Basic Trainee, moved up between horses approaching the end of the backstretch, came out to continue his run on the far turn, took over before going a mile and, after gaining a clear advantage, lasted over Victory Gallop.
Victory Gallop: Outrun for six furlongs, rallied six wide approaching the stretch and finished strongly.
Indian Charlie: Followed the leaders into the backstretch, made a run between horses approaching the stretch, held on well to the final furlong, but weakened.
Halory Hunter: Outrun to the far turn, raced six-wide into the stretch, and made up some ground late.
Cape Town: Moved up between horses, racing into the far turn, came out nearing the stretch and failed to sustain his bid.
Parade Ground: Outrun to the far turn, moved inside approaching the stretch and lacked a late response.
Hanuman Highway: Moved within easy striking distance along the inside nearing the far turn and then gave way.
Favorite Trick: Never far back, made a run along the inside on the far turn but tired badly.
Nationalore: Came out into Basic Trainee after the start, and failed to reach serious contention.
Old Trieste: Stumbled after the start, recovered quickly to reach the front nearing the backstretch, sprinted clear approaching the far turn but was finished after going a mile.
Chilito: Raced well out from the rail while a factor to the far turn before giving way.
Robinwould: Tired badly while racing wide.
Artax: Off slowly, moved up outside horses after entering the backstretch and tired badly.
Rock and Roll: Showed speed along the inside to the far turn, stopped badly did not persevere.
Basic Trainee: Bumped after the start, was being outrun when checked sharply behind Chilito approaching the stretch, then VTC bore out badly leaving the far turn and was eased when unable to keep up.
Pub Date: 5/03/98