1993: Sea Hero

Sunday, May 02, 1993


By Maryjean Wall, Herald-Leader Racing Writer

A lifetime of trying, hoping and breeding the best to get the best came down to one lucky ride when Sea Hero gave the venerable team of Paul Mellon and Mack Miller their first Kentucky Derby trophy yesterday.
Jockey Jerry Bailey played down his role in the key move that was reminiscent of Ferdinand’s getting clear on the rail to win the Derby seven years ago.  “There was nowhere else to go,” said Bailey, after he cut across the tiring Storm Tower turning for home and shot to the rail, where he won the $985,900 race.
Prairie Bayou, who was closing fast on the outside, finished second, 2 1/2 lengths behind Sea Hero. Wild Gale was a head farther behind in third. The Derby crowd of 136,817 roared as Sea Hero neared the wire for a $27.80 upset over Prairie Bayou, who was 9-2 favorite.
Prairie Bayou went to the post as the highest-priced favorite in Derby history, reflecting the wide-open nature of this 119th Derby. That wide-open character was also reflected in the high quality of the seven horses grouped in the mutuel field, which included Wild Gale.
A light rain midway through the afternoon did not deter the fifth-largest Derby crowd in history — and the largest since 1988 — from betting a record Derby Day handle of $15,755,599.
The crowd got its money’s worth when Sea Hero, the fourth Virginia-bred to win the race, made his dramatic move turning for home to win the 1 1/4-mile race in 2:02 2/5.
Bailey described his winning move in modest terms. But if he had not gunned his colt inside, he probably would not have won the race. The way to the outside was blocked and Sea Hero could not accelerate where he was racing in midpack.
Luck rode with Bailey when the hole opened, just as it had when tiring horses parted for him several times earlier in the race.
“I didn’t plot it,” said Bailey, who won his first Kentucky Derby. “I took what was given to me and it was the right thing.”
It was the right thing at the right time for owner Mellon, whose Rokeby Stable and top-notch breeding operation were largely dispersed last year. Time was running out for Mellon, 85, and his longtime trainer, Mack Miller, 71, to win the Kentucky Derby.
Miller has often said he will retire when Mellon is through racing.
Now Mellon can claim not only that coveted trophy but is only the second owner to win the Epsom Derby, too (with Mill Reef in 1971).
“And the Arc de Triomphe (with Mill Reef),” Mellon added proudly when this footnote to history was pointed out. This puts him one better than the late John Galbreath, the only other owner to complete the Derby double.
“You can’t put into words (what it means to win the Derby,” said Mellon, whose Arts and Letters lost the Derby by only a neck to Majestic Prince in 1969. “It’s very exciting, something you never believe is going to happen to you until it does.”
For Bailey, the Derby victory capped a spectacular weekend that also saw him win the Kentucky Oaks with Dispute. The last jockey to pull off this double was Don Brumfield, in 1966.
“This is better,” said Bailey with a wide smile, when asked to compare winning the Derby with his Preakness and Belmont victories two years ago on Hansel.
“This is worth everything,” agreed Miller, a Hall of Fame trainer who grew up in Versailles. “I have this marvelous owner — patient, kind and breeds very, very nice horses. I’m thrilled to death for him.”
Sea Hero is one of Mellon’s typical homebreds, destined for great things off his pedigree of Polish Navy — Glowing Tribute by Graustark.
Yet Mellon and Bailey had nearly given up on winning the Derby with Sea Hero, who was among the top 2-year-old colts last year. Sea Hero won the Grade I Champagne Stakes last fall, then suffered a series of mysterious setbacks this winter when he failed to win in two starts in Florida.
Miller said all along this spring that the hot Florida winter did not agree with Sea Hero. When he left there for South Carolina, then came to Keeneland for the Blue Grass Stakes, he seemed invigorated.
After Sea Hero finished fourth to Prairie Bayou in Keeneland’s Blue Grass Stakes, Baileymade a daring suggestion.  He told Miller he might want to consider taking the blinkers off Sea Hero for the Derby.
“That’s a big step into the Derby, (experimenting with) taking the blinkers off,” Bailey said. But he felt that might relax the colt and I felt it was his only chance.
“He had trained well, he looked well, and it was very frustrating (that he wasn’t winning),” Bailey said.
Finally it all came together for Sea Hero, in the race where it counted the most. With 19 starters and no standout,  the winning horse would be the one who got the perfect trip.
This turned out to be exactly the case for Sea Hero, while “the trip” turned out to be what tripped up the favorite, Prairie Bayou.
Sea Hero broke well from the No. 6 post, and Bailey allowed him to drop back to 13th the first time past the stands. Storm Tower went right to the front, with Santa Anita Derby winner Personal Hope just a half-length behind after a quarter in :22 4/5. Prairie Bayou, meanwhile, had just three horses beat after a quarter-mile.
Storm Tower continued to hold a half-length lead over Personal Hope around the first turn and down the backstretch, with Rockamundo third and Tossofthecoin fourth. The two leaders ran a half in :46 3/5 and three-quarters in 1:11 1/5. Sea Hero was 12th after a half-mile, with clear sailing at that point despite the big field.
“I was pretty much all alone in a spot by myself between two flights of horses,” Bailey said.
Prairie Bayou was clear at that point too, but he was still 16th after three- quarters of a mile.
Personal Hope took over the lead as Storm Tower began to drop back going into the far turn, then Corby and Union City made big moves on the outside. Bailey and Sea Hero were making up ground, with Prairie Bayou moving up behind them on the far outside.
But as the field rounded the turn and approached the stretch, Sea Hero’s luck went better than Prairie Bayou’s. Mike Smith had to go around horses with Prairie Bayou, while Bailey found a better route on the rail.
“I looked to the outside and wanted to angle out, but there was nowhere to angle out,” Bailey said. “I looked back to the rail, and the spot was still open.”
Bailey, just inside Wild Gale, who had rallied from 13th, angled Sea Hero through a hole between Personal Hope and the fading Storm Tower at the quarter pole, and then the colt took off.
Prairie Bayou lost valuable ground when he went eight horses wide around the final turn. Now he had trouble catching up.
“He was a little late switching leads on both turns,” said Smith, “and it didn’t help him none. He made his move big and I thought I could get them from there. But when the horse exploded down inside, I said, ‘Oh, man, it was gonna be hard to get him.’ ”
Personal Hope had a half-length lead at the head of the stretch after a mile in 1:36 4/5, but his jockey, Gary Stevens, said Sea Hero “ran by me like I was tied up.”
Sea Hero took command at the eighth pole, and drew clear. The Derby was only his second victory on a dirt track in four career wins, and he rewarded his backers with $27.80, $12.80 and $8.
Prairie Bayou paid $7.20 and $4.80, while Wild Gale gave those who backed the mutuel field a payoff of $4.20

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