LOUISVILLE, Ky. — About 15 minutes after Gene Sipus rode Kingpost, the 21-1 longshot, to victory in the $500,000 Jim Beam Stakes at Turfway Park a month ago, he entered the jockeys' room to shouts of congratulations from his fellow riders.
"Way to go, Gene--they won't take you off (this horse) again now," one of the jockeys yelled.
Quickly changing his silks for the next race, Sipus smiled. Kingpost's startling victory in the Beam was only the third of his career in 12 races, and Sipus had been aboard for all 3, with 5 other jockeys--including most everybody's favorite, Laffit Pincay--failing to win despite 6 tries with the huge 3-year-old gelding.
Two months after Sipus had won 2 races in 11 days with Kingpost as a 2-year-old, he was bounced by owner Mark Warner and trainer Dianne Carpenter in favor of Pincay for the $500,000 Young America Stakes at the Meadowlands. Kingpost ran third.
Sipus, a 28-year-old journeyman who does well on a minor-league circuit that includes Turfway and River Downs in Cincinnati, had never won a race as rich as the Beam. Despite being replaced before, and being the second choice for the Beam after Carpenter made a call to Eddie Delahoussaye, Sipus probably thought that the victory would secure the mount on Kingpost in the 114th Kentucky Derby, which will be run this Saturday at Churchill Downs.
But when Kingpost ran here Saturday in a tuneup, the Derby Trial, Sipus was replaced by Jorge Velasquez, the 41-year-old veteran who has ridden in nine Derbys, winning with Pleasant Colony in 1981. Kingpost was nosed out by Jim's Orbit in the Trial, and Velasquez will ride him again in the Derby.
"This could be my one chance to win a Derby," Warner said. "Sipus is young and will have other chances. We wanted a jockey who had been there (to the Derby) before and who had won the race."
Velasquez, who had become available because his Derby horse, Cherokee Colony, was injured in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, wasn't even the first choice to replace Sipus. Carpenter made a call to Chris McCarron in California, but because McCarron, with the chance to ride Stalwars in the Derby, was noncommittal, she moved on to other possibilities. There is an unconfirmed report that Jose Santos, who had headed the jockeys' money list the last two years, was offered a $20,000 mount fee before Velasquez was offered the ride on Kingpost.
Annually, there is a scramble all over the country by jockeys and their agents in the weeks leading up to the Kentucky Derby, but Sipus is an excluded principal in a shuffle this year that seems more frantic even by Derby standards. Both Warner and leading jockey Pat Day have referred to the rider situation as "musical chairs." Jockey roulette is more like it, with only one owner, one trainer and one rider--those connected with Saturday's winner--knowing that they've made the right decision.
Just two weeks ago, Joe Hirsch, who assiduously tracks the plans of Derby hopefuls on a daily basis for the Daily Racing Form, listed 33 horses as possible for the race, with 17 of the trainers not having definite jockeys. The leading riders, like Velasquez, usually have trainers coming to them with Derby offers, but even today, with a field of 19 likely, Santos does not have a mount and 2 of the starters, including Louisiana Derby winner Risen Star, are still without riders.
Trainer Jack Van Berg, who won the Derby last year with Alysheba, had hoped to sign Pincay to ride Din's Dancer Saturday, but Pincay, left without a mount when Tejano dropped out, announced Sunday that he would be riding Regal Classic.
This year's jockey movement has been so unusual that even Delahoussaye and Jacinto Vasquez, who have won two Derbys apiece, were caught in cross currents last week. Vasquez rode Risen Star to a narrow victory over the highly regarded Forty Niner in the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland, and probably would have liked to keep the mount for the Derby. But Louie Roussel, the enigmatic co-owner and trainer, said that Delahoussaye would be considered for Risen Star in the Derby after he flies here from California and works the colt Tuesday morning.
Meantime, Vasquez rode Granacus to a surprise victory in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland and had the opportunity to ride him in the Derby. "I'm in limbo," Vasquez said after the Blue Grass, hinting that he would take Risen Star if Delahoussaye doesn't get the call.
Delahoussaye, who won back-to-back Derbys with Gato Del Sol in 1982 and Sunny's Halo in 1983, is riding spectacularly and is slightly puzzled by Roussel's modus operandi. But Delahoussaye has finished behind Risen Star--running second to him with Word Pirate in the Louisiana Derby. He likes the colt, he would like to win another Derby, he doesn't have another mount and he will be here Tuesday. According to the Racing Form's Hirsch, Roussel won't make a decision until after he has studied a videotape of Delahoussaye working Risen Star. Has racing ever been this sophisticated, or complicated?