LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Alysheba went from a can't-win horse to a celebrity Saturday, winning the Kentucky Derby with some nimble footwork in the stretch, and saving Bet Twice from being the first disqualified winner in race's 113-year history.
Bet Twice, weaving through the stretch as though he was a piece of tissue paper caught in the wind, came into Alysheba's path after being struck left-handed by Craig Perret's whip with three-sixteenths of a mile to go.
Alysheba, a son of 1978 Triple Crown runner-up Alydar, clipped Bet Twice's heels and came as close as a horse can come to going down. Miraculously, jockey Chris McCarron got his mount back in gear, only to have Bet Twice again come out and almost block Alysheba's path at the eighth pole.
This time, there was no contact, and Alysheba went on to win by three-quarters of a length. But for Bet Twice and his rowdyism, Alysheba was 10 lengths better in this field of 17 3-year-olds, giving Churchill Downs its eighth straight upset winner in the Derby.
Not since Spectacular Bid in 1979 has a public choice prevailed in the Derby.
And this year, the favorite not only didn't win, he didn't even complete the 1-mile course, to the awe of 130,532 fans and a national television audience.
Demons Begone, winner of the Arkansas Derby and his two other starts this year, was sent off as the 2-1 favorite. Ahead of only three horses with a half-mile to run, Demons Begone started gushing blood from both nostrils, forcing jockey Pat Day to pull him up.
Avies Copy, a starter in the mutuel field who finished third, 2 lengths behind Bet Twice, would have been a cheese champion had Alysheba gone down. Bet Twice would have been disqualified, and the stewards would have had no choice but to give the victory to the next best horse that finished the race.
Alysheba, who had been the fouler instead of the foulee 10 days ago, losing the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland when he bumped Leo Castelli in the stretch, was an 8-1 price and paid $18.80, $8, $6.20. Bet Twice, who was 10-1, paid $10 and $7.20, and Avies Copy, at 24-1, returned $6.80. A $2 exacta on Alysheba and Bet Twice was worth $109.60.
After the first three, the order of finish was Cryptoclearance, Templar Hill, Gulch, Leo Castelli, Candi's Gold, Conquistarose, On the Line, Shawklit Won, Masterful Advocate, War, Momentus, No More Flowers, Capote and Demons Begone.
Capote, the 1986 2-year-old champion who was attempting to win the Derby off only two starts this year, both in the last month, led for a half-mile and was another horse who didn't finish, being eased through the final 70 yards by Angel Cordero.
Alysheba's time of 2:03 2/5 gives further indication that this year's 3-year-old crop is not likely to be memorable. On a day when 3-year-old maidens were flirting with the track record, Alysheba's time was the slowest for a winner since 1974, and the third slowest in the last 25 years.
The slow clocking will not stop Alysheba's mother-daughter owners, Dorothy and Pamela Scharbauer of Midland, Tex., from cashing their horse's $618,600 reward, a record share of the Derby's overall record purse of $793,600.
This makes Alysheba a millionaire, and he earned his first $423,026 the hard way, winning only once--more than seven months and six starts ago--while finishing second five times and third twice in 10 races.
Alysheba is a bay colt parented by Alydar, who was second to Affirmed in the Derby as well as the other two Triple Crown races in 1978, and Bel Sheba, who won only five races and $34,031.
Alysheba cost the Scharbauers $500,000 at a Keeneland yearling auction. Dorothy Scharbauer is the daughter of the late Frank Turner, who won the Derby with Tomy Lee 28 years ago Saturday.
Alysheba gave McCarron his first Derby win. McCarron hadn't won a Triple Crown race until he took last year's Belmont Stakes on Danzig Connection, and he had been 0 for 6 in the Derby.
It was also the first Derby win for Alysheba's patient trainer, Jack Van Berg. Van Berg had been winless in four Derbies, including the 1984 race, when Gate Dancer, after finishing fourth, was disqualified to fifth for interference in the stretch.
The 51-year-old Van Berg had Alysheba undergo a 2 1/2-hour operation by California veterinarian Scott Merrill a couple of days after the colt ran second to Chart the Stars in the San Felipe Handicap at Santa Anita on March 22.
The minor surgery, similar to the operation Tank's Prospect had shortly before he won the Arkansas Derby and the Preakness in 1985, was to relieve an ulcerated epiglottis, a membrane in the throat that swells and impairs breathing.
"When my horse turned for home in the San Felipe," Van Berg said, "he stuck his head in the air, looking for air to breathe."
Two weeks later, Alysheba had recovered from the surgery, but he developed a fever and was unable to run in the Santa Anita Derby.