A look back: The best of Derby Week

By Alicia Wincze of the Lexington Herald-Leader

So many story lines and nuggets emerged before and after this year’s Kentucky Derby that — even if our country’s newspapers weren’t shrinking — it was difficult to fit everything. With that in mind, we decided to put together a “Best of … ” for the 135th Run for the Roses.

Best quote that had to be censored: Bob Baffert, trainer of runner-up Pioneerof the Nile, describing how his wife, Jill, first noticed Mine That Bird coming through on the rail: “I was focused on (Pioneerof the Nile) because he was battling it out there, and my wife picked (Mine That Bird) up on the rail. She said, ‘Who the (bleep) is that?’ and then I heard her say, ‘It’s that (bleeping) Calvin Borel!’ “ Jill, you aptly summed up what most of us were thinking.

Best-looking horse in the post parade: Not that it helped his cause once the race started, but Desert Party could have shut down any beauty pageant with the way he showed himself. His mane was perfect, his flesh was taut, and his bay coat was dappled. Simply stunning. Sad to hear he suffered an ankle injury in the race. Runner-up: Mr. Hot Stuff.

Best reason to retire: Trainer Larry Jones didn’t get the fairy tale ending in the Derby he hoped for with Friesan Fire, but that doesn’t change his reasons for wanting to step away from the game for a while. “I’ve got a grandson running around, and today (last Monday) was the fourth time I’ve seen him, and he’s 16 months old. I haven’t seen a single grandkid open Christmas presents. We’re always with the horses. Every Christmas Day, Cindy and I are with the horses for the last 20 years.”

Best couple: Hal Wiggins, trainer of superfilly Rachel Alexandra, and his wife, Renee. They’ve been together for more than 40 years, but Renee still lights up talking about how Hal showed her how to read the racing form on their first date. Runner-up: (tie) Larry and Cindy Jones and Bob and Jill Baffert (How could you not love Jill for that wonderfully honest race description?).

Best show of resiliency: Despite going through the heartache of having to scratch I Want Revenge the morning of the Kentucky Derby, co-owner David Lanzman and trainer Jeff Mullins still showed up in the paddock before the race and handled a slew of well-wishers who came up to offer condolences. Lanzman then proceeded to take the giant placard that was supposed to designate I Want Revenge’s stall in the paddock and held it up for fans to see as he made his way through the tunnel before the race.

Best effort despite a meltdown: Papa Clem was having a tantrum that would put a toddler to shame during the post parade, but still pulled it together to finish a solid fourth in the Derby in a three-horse battle with Pioneerof the Nile and Musket Man.

Best legend in the making: Rachel Alexandra, ’nuff said. The Derby contenders ought to drop to their knees in gratitude that she wasn’t nominated for the Triple Crown.

Best reasoning/foreshadowing: Trainer D. Wayne Lukas, describing why he was taking a shot with three fillies in the Kentucky Oaks against overwhelming favorite and eventual winner Rachel Alexandra: “It’s the Kentucky Oaks, and it’s a career-making race in a lot of ways. When you ask owners to put up substantial amounts of money … you need to give them the opportunity to give them residual value. If we could run second or third or even fourth, putting that on a filly’s résumé when she goes to the broodmare band is significant.” Sure enough, Lukas managed to snag that coveted second-place finish with Stone Legacy.

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