1992: Lil E. Tee
Sunday, May 03, 1992
LIL E. TEE WINS DERBY AT 16-1 AS ARAZI FADES
By Maryjean Wall and Christy McIntyre, Herald-Leader Staff Writers
On the most international of days in the Kentucky Derby’s 118-year history, there was homespun irony in the local team of Lil E. Tee upstaging French invader Arazi.
The winner of this $974,800 race was a colt the crowd of 132,543 least expected to carry Pat Day to his first Kentucky Derby victory, breaking a nine-race jinx for the jockey. Lil E. Tee had been only a face in Arazi’s crowd here all last week. Lil E. Tee was a star only in the barn of his owner, W. Cal Partee of Magnolia, Ark., and trainer Lynn Whiting of Louisville. He wasn’t even stabled in the Derby barns, but kept with the rest of Whiting’s horses in an area well removed from the commotion that saw hundreds of people follow Arazi to the track each day.
Day and Whiting were not reluctant to say last week that they liked their colt’s chances. But so few people paid attention, while caught up in Arazi’s spell, that Lil E. Tee went postward the sixth betting choice.
Lil E. Tee paid $35.60, $12.60 and $7.60, part of an $854.40 exacta with Casual Lies, a $7,500 colt who finished only a length behind him in second place. Casual Lies returned $22 and $11.60, after going off nearly 30-1. Third-place Dance Floor paid $12.80.
The 1 1/4-mile was run in 2:04, which matched the slowest Derby on a fast track since 1949. (Cannonade in 1974 also ran in 2:04.)
Lil E. Tee’s Derby was run before the seventh-largest crowd in the history of the race, on a humid afternoon that saw the threat of rain hold off until a couple of hours after the race.
Dance Floor, owned by the family of rap artist Hammer — who attended the Derby in a resplendent red suit — was 4 1/4 lengths behind the winner in the field that was reduced from 19 to 18. The early second betting choice, A.P. Indy, was scratched early in the morning with a bruised hoof.
Arazi finished eighth, the worst finish in Derby history by a favorite who was odds-on or less. The amount of money bet on Arazi in the win pool, $1,460,470, surpassed the previous record, $1,353,677 bet on Easy Goer in 1989. All told, $14,972,965 was bet on-track during Derby Day.
Arazi was the 4-5 favorite, the shortest-priced colt since Easy Goer. He arrived from France heralded yet shrouded in mystery, for he had only one race since his stunning triumph at Churchill Downs last fall in the Breeders’ Cup.
His French trainer, Francois Boutin, blamed Arazi’s loss on that long time with little racing.
“There were no excuses. But he was two months out of work, and it worked against him,” Boutin said through an interpreter. He also criticized jockey Pat Valenzuela for failing to keep Arazi on the outside at all times.
Arazi arrived at Churchill Downs a week ago on a jet from France, and the aura surrounding him grew each day. He was seen as the second coming of Secretariat.
Lil E. Tee got to the Derby in less spectacular fashion, by way of Turfway Park, where he won the Jim Beam Stakes on March 28, and Oaklawn Park, where he ran second to Pine Bluff in the Arkansas Derby on April 18.
But owner Partee and trainer Whiting said they always thoughtLil E. Tee could win the Derby.
“I wheeled him in the exacta, so I had to like him a little,” said Partee, who has raced at Churchill Downs for 14 years.
“I’ve always liked this horse and he just started doing things right,” said Whiting, who has trained for Partee an equal length of time.
Overjoyed at winning the Derby, on a track where he has raced for so long, Whiting said, “This is what it’s all about, right here.”
Despite the Kentucky connections of Day and Whiting, Lil E. Tee was bred in Pennsylvania by Lawrence I. Littman. The colt’s sire, At the Threshold, ran third in the 1984 Derby. Whiting trained At the Threshold for Partee. It was noted during the trophy presentation by Gov. Brereton Jones that the sire stands at the governor’s Airdrie Stud.
But no one was looking at Lil E. Tee until after the race. During the running, all eyes were on Arazi.
Just as he had in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Arazi dropped back to last as the field went down the stretch the first time and headed into the turn.
Lil E. Tee broke well, and Day allowed him to settle back in the middle of the pack. Snappy Landing went right to the front, leading after the first quarter was run in :24 2/5, with Devil His Due second and Casual Lies third.
It was on the first turn that Lil E. Tee and Day encountered some trouble.
“As we got into the first turn, horses were jamming up and coming back, and it got a little bit hairy, actually,” Day said. “(Thyer) came right out in front of me, and I was literally bouncing off his rear end for a couple of jumps. Finally, E. Tee got off of him . . . from there on we actually had a pretty clean trip.”
Dance Floor, who, like Arazi, had started from the auxiliary gate, moved up on the outside on the first turn and went to the lead entering the backstretch, leading Snappy Landing by a half-length after a half-mile in :47 4/5. Day, who was coasting along in 10th at the time, said “I was so far back, I really didn’t know what the pace was like.”
Arazi, meanwhile, had begun the same move that carried him to the brilliant Breeders’ Cup win six months ago.
As Dance Floor continued to lead through three-quarters in 1:12 1/5 with Pine Bluff moving up to second and Casual Lies third, Arazi was flying by horses on the outside — including Lil E. Tee.
“As we got closer to the half-mile pole, Arazi came up on the outside of me at the same point in the race as in the Breeders’ Cup last fall,” Day said.
“When he first came to me I tried to go with him, because there were horses stopping in front of me, but my horse wouldn’t accelerate to pick up with him.
“So I just sat on him for a couple of jumps. I felt like if Arazi went on, and done what they said he was capable of doing, I was running for second money. But he never really got a long ways away from me.”
Dance Floor still led through the turn as Pine Bluff began to fall back and Casual Lies and Arazi ranged up on the outside.
“Going into the turn, I thought we were going to gallop away with the race,” said Valenzuela, Arazi’s jockey.
Day said the pace really started picking up near the three-eighths pole.
“When Pat Valenzuela set Arazi down coming into the stretch and he didn’t blow away from me, I really felt confident,” Day said.
Day and Lil E. Tee stalked Arazi around the turn and as they headed into the stretch after a mile in 1:37 3/5. Arazi was getting nowhere and Lil E. Tee was flying.
Valenzuela knew he was in trouble.
“When Lil E. Tee went by me on the outside I knew I was in trouble then, and that was about the eighth pole,” he said. “I got right to the leaders, right to Dance Floor. I thought I was just going to inhale them. I thought there was no way I could get beat today.”
Casual Lies got to the front as Dance Floor began to fade, but Lil E. Tee had dead aim on him and collared him at the eighth pole. Lil E. Tee finished a length in front of Casual Lies, with Dance Floor holding on for third, 3 1/4 lengths farther back. Conte di Savoya finished fourth.
Arazi wound up eight lengths behind Lil E. Tee. Technology, who had some trouble at the start, finished 10th.
“The only trouble I had was leaving the gate, he didn’t break very well,” said Technology’s rider, Jerry Bailey. “Then the holes were moving faster than I was.”
Gary Stevens, who rode Casual Lies, was pleased with his colt’s second- place effort.
“Believe me, he’s for real,” Stevens said. “I wish he’d had something to run at because when he made the lead his ears went up. Lil E. Tee came up so fast on the outside that it surprised him.”