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THE KENTUCKY DERBY : Pat Day Offers No Excuses for Loss : Jockey on Favorite Is Now Winless in Seven Derby Tries

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Times Staff Writer

The last time Pat Day rode the favorite in the Kentucky Derby, there was a ready explanation. Demons Begone, sent off at 2-1 at Churchill Downs in 1987, ran slightly more than a half-mile before he bled heavily from the nostrils, forcing Day to take him out of the race.

This time Day didn’t have a definitive answer. He won five straight races going into the Derby Saturday, but finished second, 2 1/2 lengths behind Sunday Silence, in the race he wanted the most.

Day’s Derby mount was Easy Goer, who at 4-5 was the strongest favorite since Spectacular Bid won the race at 3-5 in 1979.

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“We had a clean trip,” Day said. “But down the backside, it was reminiscent of Breeders’ Cup day, when we couldn’t get going.”

A star jockey of the 1980s, Day closed out the decade with his seventh straight Derby failure. His best other finish was Forty Niner’s second-place run against Winning Colors last year.

“My horse was hesitant to respond today,” Day said Saturday. Day had used the whip on Easy Goer in only one of the Alydar colt’s nine previous races, and that was in the Breeders’ Cup here last November. The horse seemed to resent the stick and finished second, also at 4-5 odds.

The whip didn’t work again Saturday.

“I’m happy I won all those other races today, but naturally I’m disappointed by not winning the Derby,” Day said. “I’m not overjoyed. And the answer to the next question is, ‘No, I’m not snake-bit in the Derby.’ I still believe there’s a Derby up there someplace with my name written on it.

“This one’s history and life goes on. I just pray that the horse comes back all right and we both live to fight another day.”

Trainer Shug McGaughey noticed the same thing Day saw, that Easy Goer was laboring down the backstretch.

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“He didn’t seem to have a whole lot of (traffic) trouble,” McGaughey said. “But it seemed to me that he had a little trouble handling the (muddy) race track down the backstretch. He had some minor traffic, but not enough to affect the outcome. He had good position all the way, and a great trip. I’m not making any excuses. You just have to congratulate (trainer) Charlie Whittingham and Sunday Silence.”

Whittingham said that Sunday Silence didn’t draw the $50,000 price that his principal owner, Arthur Hancock, wanted to get in two different auctions because the colt was sickle-hocked.

“It’s like a kid being knock-kneed,” Whittingham said. “But kids usually get over that. When this horse was young, somebody said that he reminded them of an eight-foot-tall basketball player walking down a crowded hallway.”

Whittingham compared this Derby victory to Ferdinand’s in 1986.

“I’m more excited than the first time,” he said. “This is a good horse, and he trained good and he worked perfectly coming into the race.

“He’s quicker than Ferdinand was, and he’s a harder tryer. There’s no loaf in him. Ferdinand would try to pull himself up after he made the lead.”

In his weave through the stretch, Sunday Silence came close to bumping with Northern Wolf, who raced close to Houston’s pace before finishing sixth.

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“The winner came to me,” said Jo Jo Ladner, Northern Wolf’s jockey. “He floated in a little, but we didn’t touch. At the top of the lane, we were sitting in second and I thought I had a good chance.

“My horse kept digging in. He ran a bigger race than a lot of people thought. He showed that he’s good enough to run with this kind.”

Craig Perret rode Awe Inspiring, Easy Goer’s lesser-known stablemate, who ran third.

“This is a funny kind of race course when it rains,” Perret said. “When I eased my horse out on the second turn, I was right behind Easy Goer. I realized then that Pat’s (Day’s) horse wasn’t going to dominate the race like a lot of people thought. When I got to Easy Goer, I said, ‘Hey, I’m going to have a big shot to beat him.’

“My horse put up a real good effort. But people shouldn’t give up on Easy Goer. You can’t say that he’s not a superstar just off one race.”

Horse Racing Notes

Sunday Silence increased his earnings to $980,300. . . . The crowd at Churchill Downs bet $6.7 million for the day, with about $2 million bet on the Derby. . . . The last time that there was comparable cold for the Derby was 1957, when Iron Liege won in 47-degree weather.

Two of Pat Day’s winners Saturday were for trainer Frank Brothers, who saddled Dansil for a fourth-place finish in the Derby. Day won the WHAS-TV Stakes with Appealing Breeze, the Brown & Williamson with Sunshine Always, the Churchill Downs Handicap with Dancing Spree and the Twin Spires with Classic Account. . . . Dancing Spree races for Ogden Phipps and is trained by Shug McGaughey, the same connections as Easy Goer’s. . . .Before Notation, the last race-day scratch at a Derby was Rock Steady in 1982.

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