1994: Go for Gin
Sunday, May 08, 1994
A DAY OF GIN AND ROSES
GO FOR GIN BURSTS EARLY AS FAVORITE HOLY BULL FADES
Maryjean Wall and Christy McIntyre, Herald-Leader Staff Writers
The rains came. They flooded Churchill Downs and drenched much of the crowd of 130,594, the 12th largest in Kentucky Derby history, betting a record $15,979,597.
But most of all the rain deluged the racecourse, giving the Derby its first sloppy track since 1948. Go for Gin’s Derby luck began with the rain, long before post time for the 120th renewal of the $878,800 classic. He loves a sloppy track. Then, unexpected events at the start put a spin on the race that made him a winner
– and 2-1 favorite Holy Bull a surprising 12th.
It marked the 15th straight year the favorite has failed to win the Derby. Spectacular Bid was the last favorite to win, in 1979.
Go for Gin got away from the gate quicker than Holy Bull, and that pretty much was the story of the race. But he was also helped by his team’s successful gamble that they could change their colt’s style in the race where it counted most.
They told jockey Chris McCarron to let him run more freely to the front, unlike his last three starts. The gamble worked so well that McCarron, who was on the horse for the first time, found himself on the lead much sooner than expected.
That gave Go for Gin the lead over Ulises in the first turn instead of the backstretch, where McCarron had expected he might make his move. Then he simply led the rest of the way, giving owners William Condren and Joseph M. Cornacchia, along with trainer Nick Zito, their second Kentucky Derby victory. They won the race with Strike the Gold in 1991.
Zito’s honors included a telphone call from President Clinton, who offered his congratulations partly because the president’s late mother, Virginia Kelley, had been such a racing fan. She attended the Derby last year.
“I think your mom was smiling down at us today,” Zito told the president. “She was a great lady.”
When the president mentioned the rain in Louisville, Zito chirped, “Yes, Mr. President, but the sun is shining now.”
It was also the second victory for McCarron, who won aboard Alysheba in 1987.
“I’m overwhelmed,” Condren said. “I understood in 1991 how difficult it is to win the Derby, and in 1994 I understand even better how difficult it is to win it twice.”
Their son of Cormorant was a 9-1 shot who paid $20.20 but who ran precisely the race that Holy Bull was expected to run. Go for Gin coasted leisurely through the 1 1/4 miles and claimed the winner’s blanket of roses and all the fame and glory that go with the gold trophy.
Holy Bull broke slowly and got caught behind a wall of horses, never unleashing the blazing speed that has been his signature. When Go for Gin got to the front by the first turn, he turned the race into his own production, taking control while Holy Bull never got untracked.
“I love you, God; I love you America,” shouted trainer Zito as Go for Gin crossed the wire in 2:03 3/5, 2 lengths ahead of Strodes Creek who had charged from seventh on the far turn. Blumin Affair, who had also come from far back, was 2 1/2 lengths farther behind in third place, followed by Brocco, the second choice of the bettors.
Holy Bull finished 12th, beating only two others in the field that was reduced to 14 when Kandaly scratched a few hours before the race.
“Nothing went right,” said Holy Bull’s jockey, Mike Smith. “We got a bad start, and then we got wiped out breaking, and then on the first turn we got wiped out again.
“It’s the Derby,” Smith said. “You’ve got to have the best horse that day. It just wasn’t meant to be, I guess.”
In truth, Holy Bull lost his race right at the gate when he uncharacteristically broke slowly, unlike his recent races in the Florida Derby and Blue Grass Stakes. Then he got pinched back as Powis Castle and Ulises, his neighbors in the gate, went on in front of him.
Ulises was in front with Go for Gin just outside him and Powis Castle on the inside as they passed the stands the first time. Holy Bull wasn’t far back, but there were five horses in front of him as the field entered the first turn.
Then things began to happen. Valiant Nature ran up on the heels of Powis Castle, and jockey Laffit Pincay Jr. slammed on the brakes, crossing sharply behind Holy Bull. That put him in the path of Strodes Creek and Meadow Flight. And that was the end of the race for Valiant Nature, who faded to second-to- last.
Just before they turned into the backstretch, Go for Gin wrested the lead from Ulises. The pressure was off him now, for Go for Gin reached the half in :47 1/5
with a half-length lead and McCarron sitting easy. It was precisely the pace many had said Holy Bull would turn to his advantage if he led.
But Holy Bull was struggling in fifth place, and it was becoming apparent he was not going to be competitive.
Tabasco Cat was expected to be the pivotal colt in the race, able to turn on his tactical speed at any point to wear down the leader. But he was never better than fourth down the backstretch.
“I never felt like I had much horse,” jockey Pat Day said. “When Smilin Singin Sam came by me at the half-mile pole, my horse offered no resistance. He was just spinning his wheels and going nowhere. I was struggling from there on.”
Smilin Singin Sam made a sudden rush up on the outside to second approaching the final turn. But by then Go for Gin had a length and a half lead and was still setting a leisurely pace of 1:11 4/5
that was very much in his favor.
Powis Castle, who had stalked the pace from the start, traded places with Smilin Singin Sam on the far turn, while Go for Gin still held an easy lead in 1:37 3/5, never feeling any pressure. Brocco and Strodes Creek had begun their rallies from back in the pack, but as they turned for home, Go for Gin already had the finish in his sights.
Go for Gin had a clear lead in the stretch, but plenty was happening behind him. Brocco, who had moved from seventh to fourth in the turn, gained third at the top of the stretch. But jockey Gary Stevens thought he’d made up too much ground too fast.
“It was too early,” Stevens said. “I knew at the five-eighths that we had our work cut out for us. At the three-eighths, he was empty. He was just running on guts from then on.”
Stevens said Brocco got up for second for a bit in the stretch, “but Lady Luck wasn’t on our side.”
Go for Gin had nearly reached the wire, and Zito, up in the stands, was screaming hysterically to urge him home. Strodes Creek, racing six horses wide, was churning through the slop, closing the gap on Go for Gin. Blumin Affair shot between Tabasco Cat and Soul of the Matter, joining Brocco, Powis Castle and Strodes Creek in a line across the track.
But the only ones gaining on Go for Gin were Strodes Creek and Blumin Affair, and that’s the way they finished.
Eddie Delahoussaye, who rode Strodes Creek, said his colt “really got in gear down the stretch, but that other horse, Go for Gin, he was long gone.”
Long gone he was, and he got $628,800 for his winning effort. It was only the second time he’d won this year, after finishing second in the Wood Memorial three weeks ago and fourth as favorite in the Florida Derby in March.
He was highly touted before the Florida Derby but lost a lot of support in that race. But Zito said he’d flourished in his 2 1/2 weeks in Kentucky. It was another key to his taking center stage in the Derby, as the best horse on the most important day.