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It's Homecoming Day

Horse racing: Came Home takes his time but still wins the Santa Anita Derby, leaving McCarron confident about his chances in Kentucky.


The come-home time for Came Home was compared to molasses, and his clocking for the entire race was the slowest since JFK was in the White House, but Chris McCarron, the only jockey to ever ride him, suggested that it would be foolhardy to use this data against the colt.

With Came Home, the winner of Saturday's $750,000 Santa Anita Derby by 21/4 lengths before a crowd of 36,025, it's either one thing or another. Going into Saturday, the widely held suspicion was that McCarron's horse didn't have the lungs and the legs and the heart to handle 11/8 miles. And now that he's done that, some of the same critics are saying that he didn't do it fast enough. His winning time was 1 minute 50 seconds.

With the 11/4-mile Kentucky Derby less than a month away, at Churchill Downs on May 4, the raw readings of the stopwatch seem to be conclusive enough: The last time a Santa Anita Derby winner didn't break 1:50 was Candy Spots' 1:501/5 performance in 1963; and Came Home's final eighth of a mile in 132/5 seconds was the second slowest for the race in the last 27 runnings.

McCarron, winner of the Santa Anita Derby four times and twice the winner of the Kentucky Derby, heard some of those things and went into a defensive mode.

"Anybody who places a lot of emphasis on that would be making a mistake," he said. "The track wasn't as glib today as it might have been."

Then McCarron quoted his old friend Bill Hartack, who rode five Kentucky Derby winners and once said, "The only time that time means anything is when you're looking through those bars."

McCarron went on to say that he likes his chances going into his 18th Kentucky Derby.

"This horse has got everything it takes to win," he said. "Talent, class, determination and speed. He's not a horse that runs from out of the clouds, and with his kind of running style he won't have to worry about traffic problems back there."

It was a horse "from out of the clouds" that concerned McCarron after he had disposed of Easy Grades in the final eighth of a mile, but no one in the eight-horse field was able to put in that required late run. Easy Grades, running with a misplaced chin strap, according to his jockey, Gary Stevens, hung on for second, three-quarters of a length better than Lusty Latin at 47-1, and they were followed across by Mayakovsky and U S S Tinosa.

At the rear were horses trained by Wayne Lukas and Bob Baffert, who combined for five Kentucky Derby wins during the 1990s and aren't likely to have starters this year. Lukas' Proud Citizen ran seventh and Baffert's Danthebluegrassman finished last.

The first three finishers are expected to return in the Kentucky Derby, while Patrick Biancone, the trainer of Mayakovsky, said a decision on his colt would be made later. Mayakovsky, stumbling badly at the start, still made the lead and stayed there until the top of the stretch.

Came Home, paying $4.20 as the favorite, won for the sixth time in seven starts and earned $450,000 for his owners, Californians Trudy McCaffery and John Toffan, Will Farish of Kentucky and Texan John Goodman. McCaffery and Toffan--and their trainer, Paco Gonzalez--have been this way before, winning the 1997 Santa Anita Derby with Free House before he ran third in Kentucky.

McCaffery and Toffan, who also bred Came Home, unsuccessfully tried to sell their undersized colt three times at auction.

"There are no comparisons between Free House and Came Home," McCaffery said. "It's like apples and oranges, because Came Home is such a beautifully bred colt."

Came Home, whose only loss was a seventh-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, stalked Mayakovsky all the way. The winner was a head back after a half-mile and a half-length from the lead after six furlongs.

Heading for home, Came Home and Easy Grades, who was four horses wide, were bearing down on Mayakovsky. Just past the three-sixteenths pole, Easy Grades edged ahead of Came Home by a neck. McCarron knew he had to go to his whip.

"That's the most I've ever hit him in a race," he said. "I've never had to apply the stick as vigorously on him as I did today."

Stevens, an eight-time winner of the race, was frustrated after riding Easy Grades for the first time.

"He ran well under the circumstances," the jockey said. "There was a major equipment problem. The chin strap was above the reins as opposed to below the reins, and I basically had no steering throughout the race. That's why he was so wide, and every time I'd pull on him it would have a reverse effect. It was hurting him, and it would make him get out even worse on me."

Ted West, father of Ted H. West, who trains Easy Grades, said the horse's equipment was checked after the race and the chin strap was indeed misplaced.

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