A big advantage Angel Cordero had while he was winning 7,076 races was that other jockeys could never be sure what he was going to do.
Before Thursday's news conference in New York, the racing world guessed what Cordero would do, and this time the 49-year-old jockey was not up to any surprises. Choking back tears, Cordero announced that he was giving up riding to start a career as a trainer.
The Hall of Fame jockey, whose horses earned $164.5 million, second only to the still-active Laffit Pincay, had no choice after a near-fatal spill at Aqueduct last January left him with a broken elbow, three broken ribs and no spleen.
Cordero's wife, Marjorie Clayton, who quit riding to train several years ago, urged him to retire, and Cordero's physician gave him a virtual ultimatum.
"I'm just sorry I have to leave before I want to," Cordero said.
Not many big-time jockeys go on to become successful trainers, but Wayne Lukas, who will find himself competing with his former roommate soon, predicted that Cordero will succeed.
"Angel doesn't just ride horses, he knows them," Lukas said. "He was more than a great rider. When he got off a horse, he would not only tell you about the race, but he also had that marvelous knack to tell you how the horse felt."
In the late 1970s, when Lukas was making the switch from quarter horses to thoroughbreds in California, he and Cordero shared a suite in a Pasadena hotel for about three months. Lukas got his first Triple Crown victory when Cordero rode Codex and beat Kentucky Derby winner, Genuine Risk, in the 1980 Preakness.
And that race was typical Cordero. He let Codex drift to the outside coming out of the stretch turn, carrying the filly wide. Codex's victory stood only after an appeal by Genuine Risk's owners was disallowed.
Cordero won five other Triple Crown races--the Derby with Cannonade in 1974, the Derby and the Belmont with Bold Forbes in 1976, the Preakness with Gate Dancer in 1984 and the Derby with Spend A Buck in 1985.
"Angel should make a good trainer," trainer Ron McAnally said. "He has great desire and a gift of gab. And, let's face it, a gift of gab is an asset for a trainer."
Thomas Mellon Evans, a prominent owner-breeder, reportedly will send Cordero some horses to train. Joe Allen, another owner, recently received Lukas' permission to transfer a 2-year-old from Lukas to Cordero. Cordero will also receive another 2-year-old that is owned and trained by Lukas.
The Daily Racing Form has announced that it is changing its winning time for Lil E. Tee in the Kentucky Derby from 2:04 to 2:03.
Two Racing Form clockers, using hand-held stopwatches last Saturday, timed Lil E. Tee a second faster than Churchill Downs' electronic timer.
The 2:04 time for 1 1/4 miles was the Derby's slowest on a fast track since Cannonade's 2:04 in 1974. Even gaining a second, Lil E. Tee ran a slow Derby. Since 1972, only two Derby winners--Cannonade and Alysheba in 1987-- have run slower than 2:03. Strike The Gold won the race last year in 2:03.
Churchill Downs will leave Lil E. Tee's time at 2:04, but track officials said Thursday that the timing of the race is being reviewed.
There was another Triple Crown discrepancy in 1973, with Pimlico listing Secretariat's Preakness time as 1:55 for 1 3/16 miles and the Racing Form saying the race was run in 1:53 2/5, a time good enough to break the track record.
After Arazi's eighth-place finish as the 9-10 favorite in the Kentucky Derby, trainer Francois Boutin suggested that he was forced to run the horse without enough prep time.
On Thursday, speaking at a Rotary Club meeting in Lexington, Ky., Arazi's co-owner, Allen Paulson, also said that Arazi wasn't ready to run in the Derby.
"It was our fault," Paulson said. "The horse needed more races. But I still think he's a great horse."
Asked about Boutin's post-race comments, Paulson said: "Most trainers have a series of excuses after they lose a race. And blaming the owner is No. 1."
Paulson said that Arazi did not get dehydrated on his 8 1/2-hour flight from Paris to Louisville.
Arazi has been flown back to France and won't run until next month, perhaps in the French Derby. Paulson said that it's possible Arazi will run in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Gulfstream Park in Florida on Oct. 31.
Best Pal, an early favorite for horse-of-the-year honors, drew the outside post in a field of seven and has been installed as the even-money favorite for Saturday's $700,000 Pimlico Special.
Defensive Play, who will be ridden by David Flores and will carry 114 pounds, drew the rail. Outside him, in order, are Twilight Agenda, with jockey Chris McCarron and 122 pounds; Ibero, Alex Solis, 113; Strike The Gold, no rider listed, 114; Fly So Free, Jose Santos, 116; and Valley Crossing, Edgar Prado, 111. Best Pal will be ridden by Kent Desormeaux and has been assigned 126 pounds.
Strike The Gold was scheduled to be ridden by Craig Perret, but Perret will be aboard Alydeed when the 3-year-old colt runs Saturday in the $500,000 Illinois Derby at Sportsman's Park.
Alydeed originally wasn't going to run until a week from Saturday, in the Preakness at Pimlico, but his trainer, Roger Attfield, decided to send the horse to Chicago because he wasn't sure the horse would qualify for the Preakness. The limit for Preakness starters is 14, with preference given to horses with the highest earnings.
At Churchill Downs Thursday, A.P. Indy worked three furlongs in :37 2/5 and trainer Neil Drysdale said there is a 50-50 chance that the Santa Anita Derby winner will run in the Preakness. The decision will be made Monday or Tuesday.
A.P. Indy would have been the second or third betting choice in the Derby but was scratched the morning of the race because of a bruised foot.
Horse Racing Notes
Hollywood Park continues to rearrange its stakes schedule after the elimination of Friday night racing. The Hawthorne Handicap has been moved from May 22 to May 23, the Valkyr Handicap from June 12 to June 13, and the Bel Air Handicap from July 24 to July 25. Canceled are the Lakeside Handicap, the Premiere Handicap, the First Act and the Matinee. . . . There will be twilight racing on Friday, July 3, when the Sequoia Handicap will be run.
The $100,000 Los Angeles Handicap, scheduled for Hollywood on Saturday, has drawn Gray Slewpy, Cardmania, Individualist, Frost Free and Robyn Dancer. Also on the card is the Harry Henson for 3-year-olds, with Scherando, Slerp, Star Of The Crop, Prospect For Four, Never Round and Goldgusher running. Hollywood will also offer betting on the Pimlico Special.
Blushing Groom, who sired Arazi, has been destroyed after suffering from cancer for four years. Blushing Groom, 18, stood at Gainesway Farm in Lexington, Ky., and was retired as a stallion last year. A champion in France and England, he won seven of 10 starts, one of the losses a third-place finish in the English Derby in 1977. Blushing Groom sired 72 stakes winners, including 13 champions in Europe and the United States.