1985: Spend a Buck

Sunday, May 05, 1985


By Maryjean Wall, Herald-Leader Racing Writer

Spend a Buck swept to a wire-to-wire victory in yesterday’s 111th Kentucky Derby, upsetting the favorite Chief’s Crown in the third- fastest winning time in Derby history.
No sooner had Spend a Buck crossed the finish line, 5 1/4 lengths ahead of Stephan’s Odyssey, than his owner was asked the question that will follow him everywhere the next few days. Will he seek to follow the traditional route to what has long been the ultimate goal in racing, winning the Triple Crown - Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes? Or will he take a chance at a quick $2 million  bonus that awaits him if he skips the Preakness and wins the Jersey Derby May 27 at Garden State Park?
“We don’t know,” acknowledged the owner, Dennis Diaz, 42, of Tampa, Fla., as he faced a decision that no one has had to make before. This is the first year New Jersey has offered bonuses running up to $2 million  with the reopening of Garden State Park, and Spend a Buck became eligible for the highest amount after winning the Cherry Hill Mile, the Garden State Stakes and the Kentucky Derby.
Stephan’s Odyssey and Chief’s Crown, finished second and third behind Spend a Buck, ridden by Angel Cordero Jr., who was winning his third Kentucky Derby. The colt ran on the lead all the way to finish the 1 1/4  miles in 2:00 1/5 after racing through the first six furlongs in 1:09 3/5, and the mile in 1:34 4/5, both the best times at those points in Derby history.
Yet the question on everyone’s mind was Spend a Buck’s destination, whether he would be sent after riches or after racing’s highest prestige.
“We can’t go in both,” warned Diaz’s young trainer, Cam Gambolati, 35, who has had his own stable for less than two years. The Preakness and Jersey Derby are only nine days apart and running in both would be  asking a lot of almost any horse.
Diaz said he will make a decision in the next couple of days and said, ”This is one place between a rock and a hard place that I like being.
“But don’t think for a minute that we’re automatically going to the Preakness. We’re in the business of making purses. All this talk about making a stud might have gone too far. We might want to go back to Jersey.  If we could win up there, we could get a $2.6 million payday.”
However, from a breeder’s viewpoint, a Triple Crown winner’s value as a sire would be greater than that of a multiple stakes winner, no matter how great his earnings. With his Derby winnings of $406,800, Spend  a Buck now has earned $1,398,509 and his value has climbed to an estimated $15 million to $20 million. If he won the Triple Crown, his value could go as high as $50 million. The colt cost a modest $12,500 when sold  as a yearling at a liquidation sale by the now-defunct Irish Hill Farm in Bourbon County.
One thing that could influence Diaz’s decision is the pending sale of 50 percent of Spend a Buck to Woodford County horseman William S. Farish III, who would stand the colt at stud upon retirement. Farish, prominent  at the winner’s circle and the winner’s party yesterday, said: “I don’t own a hair on his head at the moment. I have no equity interest at this time.” But an announcement is expected Monday or Tuesday.
Spend a Buck, a colt from the second crop of the stallion Buckaroo, went wire to wire unchallenged yesterday, much the same way Cordero won the Derby on Bold Forbes in 1976. Like Spend a Buck, Bold Forbes was a  very fast horse whom many thought would be incapable of sustaining his high speed over the Derby distance. But in both cases, Cordero sent his horse to the front and dared anyone to wear him down.
The challenge that was supposed to come yesterday from Eternal Prince never happened, after that colt broke tardily and never got near the front. This may have changed the complexion of the race, when Spend a Buck  did not have to run head-and-head with Eternal Prince, perhaps setting up the final furlongs for a late-closing challenger.
But Diaz, who was winning the Derby with only the second horse he bought, didn’t think his colt could have been outrun by Eternal Prince.
“They’d been talking so much about going to the lead (with Eternal Prince),” he said. “I figured they’d pull up and try to slow the pace down and hope that we’d stay behind them.
“But I told them that you don’t do that to this colt. He won’t run a half in :48.”
The key was getting Spend a Buck to relax, and with no one to challenge him on the lead, Cordero had no trouble keeping the colt in a long gallop.
Richard Migliore, who rode Eternal Prince, said his colt seemed upset by the crowd. He was trying to get the colt’s attention in the gate because he knew the start was coming and he wanted him to break alertly,  right on top.
“But he would hear the crowd in the infield and cock his head this way, and I’d get him straightened out and then he’d hear something else and cock his head that way,” Migliore said. Eternal Prince began “trying  to run up on horses’ heels” at the first turn, forcing Migliore to hold him until he had clear running space. “But by that time he didn’t have anything left.”
Gambolati kept wondering, as he watched Spend a Buck on the lead, when Eternal Prince would join him. “I could see he was going to make the lead,” the trainer recalled of the first run past the stands, “and I  said OK, now where’s Eternal Prince?”
But when the field raced down the backstretch and Spend a Buck was six lengths on top, no horse ran up to challenge him and Gambolati knew Eternal Prince had to be in trouble.
And at that point, Gambolati knew it was going to be tough to beat Spend a Buck. All week here, people had pictured either Spend a Buck or Eternal Prince winning, if either got an easy lead.
Eddie Delahoussaye, who was far back in the pack on Skywalker, could see Spend a Buck far out in front alone and knew it was all over for the others.
“That sonofabitch on the lead was really rolling,” Delahoussaye said. “I don’t think there’s a horse around who can run with him.”
Diaz said Spend a Buck’s easy lead “doesn’t surprise us; we’re not shocked. But good golly, he picked a hell of a time to turn in that kind of performance.”
The winner accomplished his Derby victory off fractions of :23, :45 4/5, 1:09 3/5 and 1:34 4/5. He was second choice in the betting at 4-1, returning $10.20, $5.40 and $3.40.
But Diaz probably thought the colt should have been bet to lower odds, for when he crossed the track from the winner’s circle, he was greeted by a chant, ”Spend a Buck, Spend a Buck.”
“I hope you did,” he shouted back to the crowd.
The Derby Day attendance of 108,573 was the lowest since Churchill Downs started keeping attendance records in 1971, and was due possibly to the fact that admission prices were increased. Yet the total betting  was a Derby Day record, when $12,330,650 was wagered.
Chief’s Crown may have caused himself a problem when he tried to savage Eternal Prince, who was on the inside of him. “I had to steady him and straighten him out,” said Chief’s Crown’s jockey, Laffit Pincay Jr.  “But after that happened we must have been 15 lengths back. I got lucky and got through on the turn. In the stretch, Fast Account came in and bumped him for a couple of strides, but he finished good.”
Second-placed Stephan’s Odyssey returned $10.20 and $5 to place, and Chief’s Crown paid $2.80 to show.
Stephan’s Odyssey earned $100,000; Chief’s Crown $50,000; and fourth-place Fast Account $25,000.

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