What’s left after all the bourbon is poured and money bet, after the hats are soaked through with the sweat of those elated by a validated hunch or devastated by a sure thing who wouldn’t go, after tension built over years and years is furiously unraveled by 100-pound jockeys riding 1,200-pound horses, after the track has been swept clean of the history-making hooves, is this:
At Graham Motion's barn, the 2011 Kentucky Derby winner, was trying to cope with that clause following his name. No longer the most recent Kentucky Derby winner, he would tweet later in the day to ask fans if it was time for him to replace the picture of him holding the Kentucky Derby Trophy that has been his avatar.
His fans urged him to keep it up, saying that once you win Derby, you’re always a Derby winner.
Motion tweeted back his sincere thanks, then said he was still mulling it over.
From their first claimers on to the biggest races in the world, trainers train themselves to think one way: that you’re really as good as your last race.
Jockeys, of course, are much the same way.
Mike Smith, already in the hall of fame, was back working horses for trainer Bob Baffert on Sunday morning. That’s somewhat unusual for a rider of his quality and reputation.
And while Baffert went out of his way to say that Smith rode Bodemeister -- the Derby morning line favorite who almost ran one of the most amazing races in the event’s history -- the way he was supposed to be ridden, there’s always that question lingering.
What if Smith had tried to pull Bodemeister back and let sprinter Trinniberg go out alone? Would Bodemeister then have had the reserve necessary to beat I’ll Have Another?
There’s almost always some sort of tension between the trainer and the jockey. It is natural. The trainer spends hours each day for a year preparing his horse; the jockey might work a horse out a few times for 10 or 15 minutes, then ride him in three or four races lasting less than two minutes.
Each has an expectation of the other, and whether any demand is met depends on the opinion of an athlete who does not talk. The trainer just wants the jockey to put his horse in the right position, then read the race as it unfolds and react. The jockey expects the horse to be able to handle whatever he encounters on the track, to run comfortably and confidently.
There’s no knowing the truth of how it came out afterward. There’s only discussion.
At Michael Matz’s barn, the trainer who guided Barbaro toward becoming one of the most exciting horses of this generation only to lose him was down on his knees, carefully washing the ankles of Union Rags. Not long ago considered the most Triple Crown-worthy horse of this 3-year-old class, Union Rags made only a late whimper in each of his last two races.
Matz told the Daily Racing Forum today that he could enter another horse, Teeth of the Dog.
And so the cycle begins again. At Pimlico, vice president of communications Mike Gathagan and his team are trying to gather a list of horses likely to run in the second-most watched race of the year. He should release another version of his preliminary list this afternoon. It’s not an easy task.
Trainers more often than not feel the way Motion, Baffert and Matz did on Sunday. Any next step they make -- the one they hope can lead to a different result -- will be taken carefully.