1988: Winning Colors

Sunday, May 08, 1988


By Maryjean Wall and Gene McLean, Herald-Leader Staff Writers

Until the filly Winning Colors broke the spell, showing only the dirt from her heels when winning wire-to-wire, the Kentucky Derby looked like D. Wayne Lukas’ impossible dream.
Lukas had sent out 12 starters in seven years of frustration, never getting closer than a third. He’d tried every method of training, with every kind of horse. But at the finish of the 114th Derby it was a most unlikely kind of Derby horse  — a filly — that gave Lukas his first Derby triumph.  Winning Colors, with Gary L. Stevens riding, held off Forty Niner’s game and desperate rush in the closing yards to win by a neck in 2:02 1/5. Risen Star passed tiring colts to finish third, and Proper Reality was fourth. Winning Colors joined Regret in 1915 and Genuine Risk in 1980 as the only three fillies ever to win the  Derby, the first race of the Triple Crown.
Lukas, the leading North American trainer for the past five years and winner of more money than any stable in history, grasped his long-sought dream in sentimental terms.
“This one’s for all the guys that ever dreamed it,” said Lukas, 52, who built a thoroughred racing empire after years of coaching college basketball and racing quarter horses at the bush-league tracks.
“It’s a special feeling,” said the tall and neatly groomed Lukas, whose operation has become a model way for modern racing stables. “I thought on the way walking over here, and a couple of days before the race, of where we started, at Park Jefferson, S.D., running for $350 pots.”
Those days seemed far behind, though, when Winning Colors won the winner’s share of $611,200 in a near-record Derby purse of $786,200. During the past week, Lukas’ major client, Eugene Klein, had been offered a reported $6 or $7 million for the filly. But the offer was never considered.
“I think she’s worth the $575,000 I paid for her,” said Klein, laughing. Klein, the former owner of the San Diego Chargers, seemed unabashedly happy to still own Winning Colors.
“I’ve been in sports 25 or 30 years, and this is my biggest thrill,” he said. “I just can’t tell you how happy Joyce (Klein, his wife) and I are. I know we’ve won the Derby, but I can’t quite believe it.”
Almost as unbelievable was Claiborne Farm’s Forty Niner, who just missed catching Winning Colors after a grueling 1 1/4 miles. “It’s really hard to take, to run that hard and lose,” said Dell Hancock of Claiborne. “We kept thinking he was going to get there. This horse has never let us down, and he didn’t today.”
Forty Niner, a son of Mr. Prospector whose stamina had always been questioned, dug in late for a second crack at the filly in the final eighth of a mile. Forty Niner had been used early, too, prompting the filly going into the first turn after cutting clear across the track from the outside No. 17 post.
Forty Niner’s jockey, Pat Day, took back behind the filly in the first turn, and chose not to press her down the backstretch. He allowed Forty Niner to relax until the final turn. But by the time he rallied the colt for another challenge, the filly was already safely in the lead.
“I really stole away at the quarter pole,” said Stevens about Winning Colors. “We felt we had a good lead, and I had a lot of horse left to steal the race from there and that’s what I did.
“I didn’t know who that was flying at me in the last 50 yards or so, but as soon as we stood up at the wire when Pat congratulated me, I knew who it was.”
Stevens actually set up his winning advantage on the first turn. He kept the filly a few yards off the rail, giving Day little choice but to take Forty Niner back rather than go wide.
“I was aware that was Forty Niner (ranging up second) going into the first turn,” Stevens said. “I stayed off the first turn a little bit and I think Pat knew what I was thinking, that he was not going to get a good journey if he came up alongside me. And he took back off of me.”
Left alone in front, Winning Colors — getting a five-pound weight allowance because of her sex — sprinted to a wider lead coming out of the first turn. Seeking the Gold, moving along the rail, passed Forty Niner and took over second, looking as though he might go after the filly. Din’s Dancer, who was expected to be the other speed colt, moved into fourth behind Forty Niner, with Proper Reality running close by. Private Terms, the undefeated favorite, was running seventh.
“And then she just kind of sprinted away from us,” Day said. “I would have liked to maintain a little closer contact with her, but I didn’t feel like I could do that. I didn’t think I could run hard and stay up close and have anything to finish with.”
The filly ran unpressed through a first quarter-mile clocked in :23 and a half-mile in :46 4/5. By that time she had increased her lead to 3 1/2 lengths. “That’s the slowest first quarter she’s had in her last three races, and it felt like it was,” Stevens said. “That’s the great thing about her racing style. She rattles off :22 and change and :45 and change like most horses run :24 and :48. She does it a second faster with a nice hold and just as easy as you could want a horse to do it.”
At the three-quarter call, Winning Colors was four lengths in front, six furlongs clocked in 1:11 2/5. Seeking the Gold was still second, a length in front of Proper Reality, who was now in front of Forty Niner. Claiborne’s colt was six lengths back of Winning Colors.
Din’s Dancer was fifth, starting to drop back. Private Terms was behind that colt and Risen Star, who would make a big run deep in the stretch, was 13th, running very wide.
Around the final bend, Proper Reality made a bid, moving into second and cutting the filly’s lead back to three lengths. But by the time the filly reached the stretch she had widened her lead again to 3 1/2 lengths.
Stevens was listening for horses behind him as he kept hustling the filly. “A lot of times if you’re sitting on a horse very easy, in this case around the final turn, the come-from-behinders are creeping to you,” Stevens said, “and you can get caught napping. They’re up in your hip pocket before you know what’s going on. And their momentum carries them past you before you can get your horse kicked in gear. But while they were creeping to us, we were running for all we were worth.
“At the three-eighths pole is where I started asking her hard. She was at top speed when we hit the quarter-pole, and they were just getting cranked up.”
One who was just getting cranked up, about one-sixteenth of a mile before the quarter pole, was Brian’s Time. But his rider, Angel Cordero Jr., said he was compromised at that point.
“Something got turned sideways in front of me at the five-sixteenth pole,” Cordero said. “I think it was Jacinto (Vasquez on Granacus). I was really making a move and I think I was going to win. I was really flying. When that happened, Jacinto almost got dropped and I had to go to the outside.”
Private Terms, who was the ninth straight favorite to lose, got as close as fourth in the turn, but he was done running and finished ninth.
“The ground was just breaking underneath of him,” said rider Chris Antley, as he spoke to Private Terms’ trainer, Charles Hadry, after the race. “He never seem to get into his run. I don’t like to use that as an excuse, but I don’t know of anything else.”
Risen Star went seven wide at the top of stretch, but had enough momentum to pass Proper Reality, Seeking The Gold and Regal Classic to finish third.
“We tried, but we lost the race going wide,” said Louie Roussel III, the trainer of Risen Star.
Forty Niner, four lengths back at the top of the stretch, was the only one close enough to challenge the filly at the finish. But he fell one neck short.
“My little horse just dug in and when I called on him at the head of the stretch, he gave me a quarter of a mile as hard as any horse could ever run,” said Day, who got the closest he’s ever been to winning a Kentucky Derby.
Winning Colors was the second choice in the betting with a crowd of 137,694. She paid $8.80, $5.20 and $4.60. Forty Niner, part of an entry with Cefis, paid $5.20 and $4.60. Risen Star returned $5.40. Winning Colors was the favorite until two minutes before post when $5,000 more was bet on Private Terms, making him the favorite.
The filly, the first roan-colored horse to win the Derby, was another in a long line of Derby winners to have the right Dosage, a mathematical calculation of how far a distance a horse can run. But she is the first winner since 1972 to not be within 10 pounds on the Experimental Handicap.
“She’s a great filly. She’s reminds me of Lady’s Secret (the Horse of the
Year in 1986),” said Day.

Share and Enjoy:
  • E-mail this story to a friend!
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Sphinn
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • MySpace
  • Mixx
  • Google
  • Reddit
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • TwitThis
  • YahooMyWeb

Comments are closed.