LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Grindstone, the strong finisher who runs tough no matter what the racetrack, beat Cavonnier Saturday in a bang-bang conclusion to the 122nd Kentucky Derby, giving trainer Wayne Lukas another leg up on what has become racing's most extraordinary record.
This was Lukas' sixth consecutive victory in a Triple Crown race, giving him a perfect set of two wins each in the Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes.
Lukas' incredible run began with Tabasco Cat in the 1994 Preakness and Belmont, and continued last year when Thunder Gulch sandwiched Derby and Belmont wins around Timber Country's victory in the Preakness. With last year's Belmont, Lukas broke the record held by Lucien Laurin, who won four straight Triple Crown races when Riva Ridge took the 1972 Belmont and Secretariat swept the Triple Crown in 1973.
This was the closest of the Lukas wins during the streak. When Grindstone, who early in the race was in 15th place, 16 1/2 lengths off the lead, and Cavonnier hit the wire together, there was confusion by all concerned parties about who had won. Down on the track, Grindstone's jockey, Jerry Bailey, and Chris McCarron, who rode Cavonnier, weren't sure. At first glance, Lukas thought that Grindstone had won, but as he made his way through the box seats to trackside, people were telling him otherwise.
Cavonnier's trainer, Bob Baffert, knocked his wife Sherry's hat off as he tried, leaning backward with the best of body English, to get his Santa Anita Derby winner to the wire in time. "For two minutes [while the stewards reviewed the photo of the finish], I had the bragging rights," Baffert said. "For two minutes, I knew what it felt like to win a Kentucky Derby."
The difference was a nose, and Baffert's two minutes of ecstasy ended when Grindstone's No. 4 went up on the Churchill Downs tote board, and Cavonnier's No. 3 popped into the second-place hole. The crowd of 142,668--third largest for a Derby--had seen the closest finish to the race since Tomy Lee beat Sword Dancer by a nose in 1959.
Cavonnier was 3 1/2 lengths better than Prince Of Thieves, another of Lukas' record five starters, and a neck farther back, in fourth place, was the surprising Halo Sunshine, who at 28-1 was the longest price in the 19-horse field. In fifth place, beaten by a nose by Halo Sunshine, was Unbridled's Song, who went off at 7-2 and became the 17th consecutive favorite to be beaten in the Derby.
Unbridled's Song, winner of the Florida Derby and the Wood Memorial, had his excuses prepackaged--a cracked hoof, a bruised foot, running in unconventional bar shoes and breaking from the outside post position--but he still took the lead going into the far turn and was two lengths in front of Halo Sunshine with a quarter-mile left. On the turn for home, he bore out badly under jockey Mike Smith, going about eight wide, and Cavonnier overtook him in mid-stretch.
Grindstone was in fourth place then, but with Bailey hitting him eight times from the left side, he was disposing of the others one by one.
"Chris thought I had won," Bailey said. "But the longer I waited, the more I thought it might be a dead heat. I must have lost three pounds waiting for that photo to be put up."
Grindstone is the most lightly raced Derby winner since 1933, when Brokers Tip also finished first after only five races. Grindstone, like Unbridled's Song a son of Unbridled, the 1990 Derby winner, had never run on the same track twice until Saturday, when he won for the third time in six starts. Owner-breeder William T. Young's colt prepped for the Derby by winning the Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds in March and finished second, a neck behind Zarb's Magic, in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park.
Coupled with Young's other horse, Editor's Note, in the betting, Grindstone paid $13.80 and in the first $1-million Derby earned $869,800. The time for 1 1/4 miles on a fast track was a respectable 2:01.
After Unbridled's Song, the rest of the order of finish was Editor's Note, Blow Out, Alyrob, Diligence, Victory Speech, Corker, Skip Away, Zarb's Magic, Semoran, In Contention, Louis Quatorze, Matty G, Honour And Glory and Built For Pleasure. The other Lukas trainees were Editor's Note, Victory Speech and Honour And Glory.
"I was never prouder to stand next to Mr. Young in the winner's circle," Lukas said. "He's stayed with my program over the years, and has become a friend as well. This is the happiest I've ever been. I have a tendency to be a stoic, but this was the most emotional I've ever been. We put the greatest position rider around on this horse. I'm damn proud of this record."
Lukas said Grindstone would run in the Preakness at Pimlico on May 18, and will probably be joined there by Editor's Note and perhaps one more of his horses. This was his third Derby victory--the first was with the filly, Winning Colors, in 1988--and he became only the fourth trainer to win two straight Derbies. The last was Laurin with Riva Ridge and Secretariat.