Trainer Nick Zito and the rest of the Strike The Gold guys have struck again at Churchill Downs.
When Zito and Strike The Gold's owners, Bill Condren and Joe Cornacchia, blew into town in 1991, their flashy colt was not a secret. He had won the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland three weeks before, and when he won the Kentucky Derby as the third choice, the price was $11.60.
This time, the Zito-Condren-Cornacchia combine hit Louisville with what appeared to be damaged goods. A three-time stakes winner as a 2-year-old, their Go For Gin had been beaten by both Dehere and Holy Bull in Florida this year and couldn't outrun Irgun in the stretch of the Wood Memorial in New York.
"Based on those races, the horse looked like he might be washed up," said Chris Antley, who rode Strike The Gold to his Derby victory. "He appeared to be tailing off."
Many of the 130,594 shivering, dampened fans felt the same way Saturday, making Go For Gin the 9-1 fifth choice. The colt had gotten even less respect on the pre-Derby morning line, on which he was 15-1.
All last week, Zito couldn't figure out why his horse was being dismissed. "People would come to my barn and I'd tell them, 'Please watch my horse the way he's attacking the ground since he got here. He loves Churchill Downs.' "
That affection for the track continued Saturday, in a Derby that played out in none of the ways many trainers had planned. Favored Holy Bull was hammered leaving the gate; a roughhouse run around the first turn hurt the chances of some other contenders, and Go For Gin, moving to the front heading down the backstretch, was never threatened, winning by two lengths for jockey Chris McCarron, who had never ridden the horse in a race before.
Holy Bull finished 12th in the 14-horse field that was reduced by the scratch of Kandaly, the Louisiana Derby winner, because of the sloppy track. Holy Bull became the 15th consecutive Derby favorite to lose.
"I thought our horse had been underestimated by some of the astute handicappers in this great game," Condren said. The 60-year-old New York businessman and Cornacchia, 61, saw their partnership with Strike The Gold's other owner, B. Giles Brophy, end in acrimony, but Condren and Cornacchia stayed together and bought Go For Gin for $150,000 at a Saratoga yearling auction.
They hired McCarron when jockey Jerry Bailey jumped ship after the Wood. Go For Gin gave McCarron another Derby victory to go with his aboard Alysheba in 1987.
While McCarron and Eddie Delahoussaye were having dinner Friday night at the home of Alex Harthill, a local veterinarian, Delahoussaye turned to his fellow rider on the Southern California circuit and said: "You Irish son of a gun. You're probably lucky enough to pick up that horse and win."
Delahoussaye was also riding his Derby mount for the first time, and Strodes Creek, making only his fifth start, finished second, 2 1/2 lengths ahead of Blumin Affair. Blumin Affair was ridden by Bailey after his first Derby choice, Irgun, was injured.
Brocco, the Santa Anita Derby winner, finished fourth after breaking lackadaisically and falling behind early. The rest of the order of finish was Soul Of The Matter, Tabasco Cat, Southern Rhythm, Powis Castle, Mahogany Hall, Smilin Singin Sam, Meadow Flight, Holy Bull, Valiant Nature and Ulises.
In windy, 58-degree weather, Go For Gin ran 1 1/4 miles in 2:03 3/5 over a track that had absorbed about an inch of rain Friday night and early Saturday. The son of Cormorant and Never Knock, the same dam as Pleasant Tap's, paid $20.20 and earned $628,800 of the total purse of $878,800. Go For Gin now has five victories and three seconds out of 10 races and earnings of slightly more than $1 million.
Breaking from the No. 8 post, Go For Gin veered to his right at the start, pushing Tabasco Cat into Brocco on the outside. From the No. 4 post, Holy Bull, who went off at 2-1, didn't break alertly and was squeezed by Powis Castle on his inside and Ulises on the outside.
"My horse got away flat-footed," said Mike Smith, Holy Bull's jockey. "He usually breaks like a rocket. Then we got cremated. It seemed like every step we took was the wrong one. On the middle of the (first) turn, the three horse (Powis Castle, ridden by Antley) came out and got me. It was like being thrown down and trying to get up again. My horse never got into the bridle after all that happened."
On the clubhouse turn, Powis Castle came out, affecting several horses besides Holy Bull. Laffit Pincay, riding Valiant Nature, was forced to take up with his mount to avoid clipping heels. Delahoussaye, who was behind Valiant Nature, had to swing Strodes Creek to the outside, losing some momentum.
Ulises, who had figured to challenge Holy Bull for the lead in many a pre-race scenario, led for a quarter of a mile. Down the backstretch, Go For Gin was cruising along comfortably, with Ulises ahead of Powis Castle in third place. Tabasco Cat was fourth, Holy Bull fifth and Brocco, who had expected to be close to the pace, was in sixth.
"My horse was too relaxed in the gate," jockey Gary Stevens said of Brocco. "He was star-gazing. We must have broken two lengths behind everybody else. He just walked away from the gate. We must have been 11 lengths behind (going past the stands the first time). We got up to about six lengths behind (down the backside), but I had to take too much out of him to do that. Then by the three-eighths pole, I had an empty tank.
"I was just happy that we got fourth after that, because he got tired in the stretch."
Powis Castle and Smilin Singin Sam, who had rushed up into contention, were through after a mile. At the top of the stretch, Go For Gin had increased his lead to four lengths over Strodes Creek.
"He had been galloping along," McCarron said, "and I thought that if he was able to do that, he was going to be very tough. He finished very strong. I could hear somebody (Strodes Creek) coming on the outside in the last 70 yards or so. My horse was drifting out, but I just let him drift a little bit and kept him running."
The first time McCarron got on Go For Gin was for a six-furlong workout in 1:15 last Sunday at Churchill Downs.
"Although it sounds corny, you have to be lucky and blessed to win the Derby," said Zito, who has been lucky and blessed twice. "My dad, may he rest in peace, once told me: The underdog is a dangerous animal."
Kentucky Derby Chart
Copyright 1994, Daily Racing Form
Eighth Race at Churchill Downs Saturday May 7, 1994
1 1/4-Miles. Purse $500,000-Added 3-Year-Olds, the Kentucky Derby Grade I 120th Running
Horse Wt. PP 1/4 1/2 3/4 Go For Gin 126 8 2- 1/2 1- 1/2 1-1 1/2 Strodes Creek 126 7 7- 1/2 8-hd 9-1 Blumin Affair 126 13 10- 1/2 11-3 8- 1/2 Brocco 126 10 9-1 1/2 6-1 7- 1/2 Soul Of The Matter 126 1 12-5 10- 1/2 10-2 1/2 Tabasco Cat 126 9 4- 1/2 4-1 5-1 Southern Rhythm 126 12 14 13-4 13-3 1/2 Powis Castle 126 3 3-1 3- 1/2 3-1 Mahogany Hall 126 6 13- 1/2 14- 14- Smilin Singin Sam 126 11 11-hd 9-1 2-hd Meadow Flight 126 14 8-1 12-2 11- 1/2 Holy Bull 126 4 6-1 1/2 5-1 1/2 6-1 1/2 Valiant Nature 126 2 5- 1/2 7- 1/2 12-3 Ulises 126 5 1-hd 2-1 1/2 4-hd
Horse 1M Str Fin Go For Gin 1-1 1/2 1-4 1-2 Strodes Creek 7-hd 2-hd 2-2 1/2 Blumin Affair 6-1 5- 1/2 3- 3/4 Brocco 4- 1/2 3- 1/2 4-1 1/4 Soul Of The Matter 8-2 6-1 5-2 1/2 Tabasco Cat 5-1 1/2 7-2 6-1 1/4 Southern Rhythm 10- 1/2 9-3 7-1 1/2 Powis Castle 2-1 4-hd 8-2 Mahogany Hall 12-1 1/2 11- 1/2 9- 1/2 Smilin Singin Sam 3-1 1/2 8- 1/2 10-2 Meadow Flight 11-1 1/2 10- 1/2 11-2 Holy Bull 9-2 12-4 12-2 Valiant Nature 13-8 13-16 13-15 Ulises 14 14 14
Horse Jockey To $1 Go For Gin McCarron 9.10 Strodes Creek Delahoussaye 7.90 Blumin Affair Bailey 14.90 Brocco Stevens 4.30 Soul Of The Matter Desormeaux 16.90 Tabasco Cat Day 6.10 Southern Rhythm Gomez 20.00 Powis Castle Antley 20.30 Mahogany Hall Martinez f-16.70 Smilin Singin Sam Melancon f-16.70 Meadow Flight Sellers f-16.70 Holy Bull Smith 2.20 Valiant Nature Pincay 12.00 Ulises Chavez f-16.70
Time--22 4-5, 47 1-5, 1:11 4-5, 1:37 3-5, 2:03 3-5. Off 5:34 EDT. Start Good. Won Driving. Track: Cloudy & Sloppy.
6--Go For Gin 20.20 8.40 5.80 5--Strodes Creek 7.80 6.00 10--Blumin Affair 8.00
f-mutuel field. $2.00 Exacta (6-5) Paid $184.80 $2.00 Trifecta (6-5-10) Paid $2,351.40 $2.00 Pick Six (8-10-2-5-3-6) No winners
* ALLAN MALAMUD: Chris McCarron's ride saved face--his own. C8
* CHARLIE WHITTINGHAM: Trainer is feeling good about being second with Strodes Creek. C8