LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The most poignant moment at Churchill Downs Saturday occurred long after the Kentucky Derby had been run.
It took place in the jockeys' room, away from the crowd and the cameras, and it involved the rider who won the race and the rider whom a large portion of the crowd of 130,532 believed would win it.
Pat Day, the tears gone, walked over and hugged Chris McCarron, congratulating him for accomplishing what he so badly wanted to accomplish himself.
McCarron won the 113th edition of the Derby, guiding Alysheba to victory in an incident-packed race. Afterward, McCarron was able to watch his colt being led away, head held high and draped in roses.
Day, meanwhile, watched his colt, Derby favorite Demons Begone, leave the track in an ambulance.
Seldom has defeat been so painful. Seldom have such high hopes met with such a cruel fate. Demons Begone was beaten without even having a chance to win.
He suffered a not uncommon racehorse affliction: he bled, the blood pumping up from his lungs and out his nostrils, preventing him from running and forcing Day to ease him to a stop just a half mile into the race.
Demons Begone's Derby was over and, trainer Phil Hauswald said later, the May 16 Preakness also appears out of the question.
"I want to cry," Day said, coming close to doing so. "I want to cry for myself and for Mr. Hauswald and for everybody concerned with this horse, everybody involved with him, and all the people that backed him, all the people from Arkansas, and all of my friends and family around the country that were pulling for us."
Demons Begone had built a large following, coming into the Derby as the only colt unbeaten this year. In Arkansas, he had won the Southwest Stakes, the Rebel Stakes and the Arkansas Derby in impressive fashion, and he stood to earn a million-dollar bonus if he added the Derby to his string.
But Day recognized early on that it was not going to be his race.
"Before we went under the wire (for the first time), I had a feeling that something wasn't quite right," Day said. "For the first sixteenth of a mile or eighth of a mile, I felt very comfortable; and then all of a sudden, he just quit running and was letting horses run by him and was losing his position.
"I had lost contact with him, so to speak. I couldn't get him running and I couldn't keep him running, and that's not the way this horse is when he's right."
Day was already easing the horse when he spotted the blood, spattering the colt's flanks and his own boots. He knew the race was over.
"When you're riding in the Kentucky Derby and you're on the favorite, you're going to do what you can to try to get him back in the race," Day said. "I tried for an eighth of a mile on the backside, but he was just not there, he was in distress, so I was just easing him up.
"I was wondering what could possibly be the problem and then I could see the blood coming out of his nostrils."
It was over, and so was Day's attempt to win the Kentucky Derby for the first time.
Disappointed as he was, he refused to believe in a jinx, either for himself or for the Derby favorite, who has not won since Spectacular Bid did so in 1979.
"It's just one of those things that happen," Day said. "As I said earlier in the week, I know there's a Kentucky Derby out there with my name on it. I'm not worried about it. Right now, my biggest concern is the horse and his welfare.
"I'm very concerned about this horse. He's been very good to me. He was the favorite in the Kentucky Derby and we were certainly looking forward to many more races on him throughout the year.
"I don't know how severe it is or what they can do to apprehend whatever the problem is. Maybe there's a minor lung infection that caused it, I don't know. I can't even guess what the problem might be. But certainly I am concerned about the colt, and the first place I'll stop after the races will be at the barn and see how he's doing."
At the barn, Hauswald, 29, was sitting on the trunk of a car, staring into space, his eyes as red as Day's, wondering what had gone wrong. Behind him, Demons Begone was being cooled, a groom hosing down his legs with cold water.
"I'm very disappointed," Hauswald said. "There was absolutely nothing more I could have done or done any different (to prepare Demons Begone for the race). These things happen. The horse will win plenty more races before his career is over. It's just unfortunate it happened today."
Like Day, Hauswald quickly sensed that Demons Begone was in trouble.
"Around the first turn, I kinda didn't have a good feeling. Then when he started down the backstretch, and I saw the kind of fractions they were running and he wasn't going anywhere, I knew something was wrong."
It was, but there was absolutely nothing he nor Day could do about it. For them, there will be other Kentucky Derbies, but for Demons Begone, there was only this one.