Lil’s Bit of Bumping Alters Outcome of Florida Derby


The 47th Florida Derby was an accident waiting to happen, with the contrary Coronado’s Quest running in the six-horse field. But there was another culprit lurking under the rain clouds at Gulfstream Park on Saturday. Lil’s Lad, first to the finish line, was a bad actor too, and the stewards disqualified him and made the late-running Cape Town the winner.

There was a curt post-race exchange between Wayne Lukas, the trainer of Cape Town, and Will Farish, one of the owners of Lil’s Lad, but most of the principals seemed to agree that the stewards had made the right call. Lil’s Lad hung on to finish first by a nose, but he drifted to his right in the last 50 yards and bumped Cape Town near the wire.

“I thought my horse ran good enough to beat [Lil’s Lad] legitimately,” said Shane Sellers, who rode Cape Town. “The other horse came out and knocked my horse around.”


Sellers said that as he and Jerry Bailey, Lil’s Lad’s jockey, left the track, Bailey knew his horse’s number was coming down.

Still, Farish sloughed off Lukas after the race. When Lukas tried to console Lil’s Lad’s owner, Farish reportedly said, “Wayne, I don’t want to hear about it, please.”

Then Farish walked off.

The stewards lit the “inquiry” sign shortly after the horses crossed the wire, and Sellers also claimed foul against Lil’s Lad. While the judges took a few minutes to decide, Neil Howard, the trainer of Lil’s Lad, looked at Lukas and said, “You’re going to get it, Wayne. They’re going to take me down.”

Back at the barn long after the race, Howard said, “I don’t have a problem [with the disqualification]. I’m sorry it happened, for the owners’ sake, but I agree with the stewards’ decision.”

The $750,000 Florida Derby wasn’t the only race that drew 28,652 to the South Florida track on a day that started in sunshine but was marked by a squall as Cape Town, Lil’s Lad and the others were being saddled. Earlier on the card, Favorite Trick--the horse of the year in 1997--made his debut as a 3-year-old and extended his undefeated string to nine races with a 1 3/4-length victory in the $100,000 Swale Stakes.

Favorite Trick, now trained by Bill Mott after Patrick Byrne, his trainer for the first eight victories, took a private job with Canadian industrialist Frank Stronach, is headed for the Blue Grass Stakes on April 11 at Keeneland. Cape Town and Lil’s Lad are also expected to run in that race.


Favorite Trick, running for the first time in more than three months, came from fourth place to complete seven furlongs in a so-so 1:22 4/5, paying $2.60 to win in a field of nine.

“Bill Mott is my leading candidate for the trainer-of-the-year award,” Lukas said. “He did some job getting this horse ready for the Swale off just a few workouts. But it’ll get tougher for him next time. There’ll be more horses, and there’ll be no place to hide.”

The rain stopped by the time the Florida Derby horses reached the gate, leaving the track fast. There was another pre-race outburst by Coronado’s Quest, who was again saddled in the tunnel between the paddock and the track, away from the other horses. Robbie Davis inherited the problematic task of trying to mount the stubborn colt, after his regular rider, Mike Smith, suffered a broken left collarbone in a spill in one of the earlier races.

Nearing the track entrance, Coronado’s Quest stopped short, and Davis eased himself out of the saddle onto an outrider’s pony, which was next to the colt. Riderless Coronado’s Quest reared, wheeled around and started to head back toward the paddock. The outrider and one of trainer Shug McGaughey’s assistants stopped him long enough for Davis to get back on.

After the break, Coronado’s Quest shadowed Lil’s Lad, the 7-10 favorite, while the other horses lagged. Cape Town was third, nine lengths behind, after three-quarters of a mile.

On the turn, Coronado’s Quest took the lead, leaning on Lil’s Lad as he fought to get past. Midway through the turn, however, Cape Town closed ground rapidly and Sellers believed he was on a winner.


Coronado’s Quest, his energies expended, was pooped in the stretch. Lil’s Lad, on the inside, led again at mid-stretch, but by then Cape Town was the nemesis. A sixteenth of a mile out, it looked as though Cape Town was going to go past, but he never did.

“I’m disappointed at what happened,” Bailey said. “[Coronado’s Quest] laid all over me five or six times on the turn. Maybe that made my horse mad. He fought like a tiger. He might have thought that was Coronado’s Quest coming after him again near the wire, and maybe that’s why he bore out.”

McGaughey said later that Coronado’s Quest has breathing problems, suggesting that the colt may have displaced his palate. That condition, plus saddling nightmares for yet another race, probably will preclude Coronado’s Quest from running before more than 100,000 in the Kentucky Derby on May 2.