1986: Ferdinand

Sunday, May 04, 1986
By Maryjean Wall and Gene McLean, Herald-Leader Staff Writers
Jockey Bill Shoemaker forced long shot Ferdinand down the stretch and through a gap as small as a needle’s eye to win yesterday’s 112th Kentucky Derby by 2 1/4 lengths.
The upset victory was especially sweet for Shoemaker, 54, one of racing’s oldest and most successful jockeys. The win by Shoemaker and trainer Charlie Whittingham, 73, warmed the hearts of all of racing. It was a triumph of the kind that causes young men to dream dreams and old men to feel young again.  Bold Arrangement, an English horse, was second in the field of 16 3-year- olds. Third was Broad Brush, followed by Rampage. The favorite, Snow Chief, finished 11th.
Time for the mile and a quarter was 2:02 4/5, which was 2 3/5 seconds off last year’s winning time recorded by Spend a Buck and 3 2/5 seconds off the Derby record held by Secretariat.
But time seemed lost in the emotionally charged scene right after the race, when Shoemaker raised his fist in victory as he waited astride Ferdinand to enter the Winner’s Circle. He was the oldest jockey ever to win the Kentucky Derby.
It had been 21 years since the last of Shoemaker’s three Kentucky Derby victories. Whittingham, one of the sport’s most revered trainers, had never won the race.
As evening settled slowly at Churchill Downs, easing gently past the afternoon’s long shadows, a glow lingered on the faces of the two older men. Twilight had never been brighter for Shoemaker and Whittingham.
Their victory came on a day when a crowd of 123,819 bet the most money ever wagered on a single race-track program: $13,114,331, which included $6,165,119 on the Derby.
“I had a few tears in my eyes coming back to the Winner’s Circle,” Shoemaker said. “I think this is the best one of the whole group, because I’m in the twilight of my career.”
“I never felt more emotional after a race,” said Whittingham, who had vowed nearly 30 years ago never to return to the Derby unless he could win. He thought he had that colt in Ferdinand, who is owned by Elizabeth  Keck and was bred in Kentucky by her husband, Howard Keck. The chestnut colt is a son of Nijinsky II out of Banja Luka, a daughter of Double Jay. He was bred and foaled at Claiborne Farm near Paris.
Shoemaker believed in Ferdinand, too, and rode him with a confidence and daring that belied the jockey’s age.
“I remember when Charlie took me to see the colt the first time last summer at Del Mar,” Shoemaker said, “and he said, ‘We’re going to have a lot of fun with this one.’ I thought about it a lot. If I had one more  chance to win the Derby, this might be it.”
But Shoemaker’s chance was almost snuffed soon after the start of the race. Ferdinand, who broke from post position No. 1, was squeezed into the rail when four horses came over on him.
Shoemaker had played this game before, though, and knew that patience more often will pay off. He tightened his hold on Ferdinand and eased him back to last place going into the first turn. Ferdinand raced 20 to  30 lengths off the leaders Groovy, Zabaleta, Bachelor Beau and Snow Chief, as they went around the first turn and into the backstretch.
“I just reached up and took a severe hold,” Shoemaker said. “I was a lot farther back than I wanted to be. But I said: ‘Here I am. There’s no use rushing it now.’ ”
It was just as well that Ferdinand was not rushed, for the pace turned out to be too much for those on the front. Groovy, who set fractions of :22 1/5, :45 1/5 and 1:10 1/5, conked out after three-quarters of a mile and finished last. Zabaleta was also cooked at that point and quickly dropped to 12th. Snow Chief bid adieu at the top of the stretch after moving to the lead on the turn.
“I wasn’t too worried too much because I knew he’d finish well,” Whittingham said. “I was just hoping they’d run fast enough up front that they’d slow down.”
By the time the mile was reached in 1:37, Broad Brush was on the lead after coming from sixth, followed by Bold Arrangement and Badger Land, who had come from seventh and eighth.
But Rampage and Ferdinand were making the boldest moves, running almost stride for stride in the middle of the track as they bore down on horses around the turn. Turning for home, Snow Chief suddenly stopped on  the rail. And this was the turning point in the race.
Pat Day, riding Rampage, swerved to the inside and headed straight for a narrow hole behind Snow Chief on the rail. But Snow Chief was flattening out and pinched Rampage into the rail. That opened up a gap between  Snow Chief and Broad Brush, and Shoemaker went for the hole.
“Bill made an excellent move. He might have won the race right there,” Whittingham said.
“It was one, two, three boom,” said Shoemaker, describing how fast he sent Ferdinand through the opening. “I could have gone to the outside, but why go around three or four horses when you can save ground to the inside?”
The quick thinking on Shoemaker’s part showed the world that he hadn’t lost his magic touch with age.
“I don’t worry that he’s too old,” Whittingham said. “If you play golf with him you’d better not bet against him and be a hacker.”
Day, who had to stand up in the stirrups to stop Rampage from running over Snow Chief, thought he had a chance until that incident.
“I had to stand up on him for three or four jumps,” said Day, who still managed to finish fourth after maneuvering around the traffic. “This horse has one run, and he was just getting into it. I thought I was on  the best horse today. Shoe got to the opening, and I didn’t. That was the difference.”
Once free, Ferdinand did the rest on his own, running past Bold Arrangement, Broad Brush and Badger Land. The complete finish order behind him was Bold Arrangement, Broad Brush, Rampage, Badger Land, Wheatly Hall,  Fobby Forbes, Icy Groom, Wise Times, Mogambo, Snow Chief, Zabaleta, Southern Appeal, Bachelor Beau, Vernon Castle and Groovy.
At 17-1, ninth choice in the betting, Ferdinand paid $37.40, $16.20 and $8.60. Bold Arrangement returned $9.40 and $6.80. Broad Brush paid $9.20.
The biggest disappointment in the race was the failure of Snow Chief, who went off at 2-1. His trainer, Mel Stute, blamed himself.
“He laid fourth, and I thought he was in a perfect position,” Stute said. “He might have come up a little empty. Maybe I should have run him closer. Maybe I should have trained him harder for this race.”
One of the bright spots was the strong second-place finish of Bold Arrangement, who was 14th going past the stands for the first time.
“He ran a tremendous race. I couldn’t be any prouder of him,” said Clive Brittain, his trainer. “Before the race, I thought he was going to win. That’s the reason I waved my finger to the crowd. But give credit  to the winner. He was ever the sportsman.”
All seemed to agree that the day belonged to Ferdinand, Shoemaker and Whittingham. In the jockeys room after the race, Shoemaker walked in and tossed his hat to his valet.
“All right,” Shoemaker said. Moments later he watched a replay of the race, and when he heard the track announcer say, “and here comes Ferdinand,” Shoemaker said, “Yeah, here he comes.”

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