1998: Real Quiet

Sunday, May 03, 1998
By Maryjean Wall, Herald-Leader Racing Writer
Bob Baffert had his eye on his other horse, Indian Charlie, near the quarter pole in the 124th Kentucky Derby when a big, bold flash of movement caught his eye.
“All of a sudden I see this horse and I say, `My gosh,’” Baffert said. But it wasn’t Indian Charlie, the 5-2 favorite, making the key move that would decide the $1,038,800 race. “It’s The Fish,” Baffert shouted in surprise as he called his pet name for Real Quiet. And The Fish, who’d always swum in the shadow of Indian Charlie, was bearing down like a torpedo locked on the finish out front.
Running faster than Indian Charlie, and still faster than Victory Gallop who jetted past Indian Charlie in the stretch, Real Quiet ran the race of his life for owner Mike Pegram to hold off Victory Gallop by half a length and win the Derby in 2:021/5 on a fast track.
He was an inexpensive colt bought for $17,000, the first Derby winner for his sire, Quiet American, and a mild upset that paid $18.80, $8.80 and $5.80, earning $738,800 for Pegram.
Indian Charlie was third, the 19th consecutive favorite to lose the Kentucky Derby.
And Real Quiet was hailed as the hero who gave Baffert his second consecutive Derby win - and jockey Kent Desormeaux his first.
Only five other trainers have won back-to-back Kentucky Derbys, the most recent one D. Wayne Lukas in 1995 and 1996. But most in the third-largest Derby crowd of 143,215 would have guessed that Indian Charlie would be the one to help Baffert pull off this feat.
Real Quiet was toiling in the wings all week while Indian Charlie played the star in Baffert’s barn, the horse sought out by large crowds of media and racing fans because he was undefeated and he had a folksy name. Real Quiet lived like his name, a horse not in great public demand but one bred to go the 11/4-mile Derby distance and who was ready to run a huge race.
Baffert got a hint of this pending explosion when Real Quiet went through his final Derby drill last Tuesday, tripping the stopwatches in :591/5. That was about four-fifths of a second faster than Baffert had hoped for. It gave every indication that he was going to have no trouble handling this track.
Churchill Downs is a surface that horses either love or hate, and the workout was a key indicator that it was the former for Real Quiet . “I think he just really got to liking the racetrack,” Baffert said. Then he added, “Indian Charlie liked the track, but he really didn’t get into it like Real Quiet.”
Easy to say in hindsight, of course, but Baffert has always liked Real Quiet. The bay colt holds a special place in his affections, for his owner, Pegram, has been a longtime client who talked Baffert into switching early in the 1990s from quarter horses to thoroughbred racing.
“When he hit the wire I almost started crying,” said Baffert, who is more often laughing and playing the clown. And for a brief time when the horses turned for home, Baffert thought his two colts (owned by different interests) might run first and second in what was only his third try at the Derby.
“I really thought I was going to run one-two in this race, but that’s horse racing,” said Baffert, who watched the race with Indian Charlie’s owners . “My emotions are steaming. Indian Charlie ran third and these people understand, but it still sucks.”
Pegram, who owns a string of McDonald’s restaurants, beamed as he said, “The gods smiled on me today, but boy am I glad that they smiled on me.”
Baffert guessed that Indian Charlie might have tired after running closer to a fast pace set by Rock and Roll in the first quarter-mile and then by Old Trieste on the backstretch . Old Trieste, breaking from the No. 14 post in the field of 15, had stumbled at the start. But he lost no time catching up in a first quarter-mile run in :223/5, gaining on Rock and Roll around the first turn as he inched up on the outside.
The speedy Chilito was racing third ahead of Indian Charlie into the backstretch when Old Trieste took over the lead. Old Trieste flew through a half-mile in :453/5, then three-quarters of a mile in 1:103/5. He was clear out front by 31/2 lengths.
Behind him on the backstretch, the big guns in the race were waiting to reach the far turn, where the action would get heated. Favorite Trick, the second choice of the bettors, was racing fifth, only a head behind Indian Charlie. Cape Town, the bettors’ third choice, was eighth and following long shot Hanuman Highway. Halory Hunter, the fourth choice, was farther back in 12th. Artax, who’d been expected to go to the front, was in 10th place and dropping back.
Real Quiet had started out on the rail but now was running comfortably between horses behind Favorite Trick on the backstretch. Desormeaux was hoping he could keep him there longer, “until the posse came.” But before they reached the far turn he saw Favorite Trick “scraped the fence” as he skimmed along the rail, and Desormeaux said, “I don’t know if it was an ill feeling, but I moved to the outside.” Possibly he thought that Favorite Trick might stop in front of him.
Time enough to get going. Indian Charlie was poised to make his move up ahead. Angling out just before the horses slipped into high gear around the final turn, Real Quiet mounted his run on the turn just as Indian Charlie sprinted after Old Trieste. And the posse definitely was hot on their trail.
“Turning for home, I asked him for his life and he gave it to me,” Desormeaux said.
This was the move that took Baffert by surprise. Desormeaux turned poet when he described how it went:
“When I moved to the outside of Indian Charlie, he just took me, he back-seated me,” Desormeaux recounted. “And I was like, `Oh Baby.’ When we turned for home it was like, `Yes, maybe.’ At the eighth pole, maybe 80 yards out, I was like, `Oh, s—.’”
Victory Gallop was coming, gaining with every step. “Here they come,” Desormeaux said to himself. “I just switched (his whip) to the right hand and The Fish switched to the right lead and he just gave me four more jumps of strain and guts to the wire - and then all the emotions hit me.”
Victory Gallop’s jockey, Alex Solis, said his colt “was just flying at the end.” But he said his No. 13 post position “just killed us. I had no chance to drop in.”
Halory Hunter, who’d come from last in the first quarter-mile and was still only 12th around the final turn, made up considerable ground to finish fourth
- with jockey Gary Stevens thinking after the race that the best move might be to wait for the 11/2 mile Belmont Stakes.
Favorite Trick, who wound up eighth after dropping back from fifth around the far turn, “just kind of emptied out” between the three-eighths and the quarter pole, jockey Pat Day said.
Jerry Bailey, fifth-place Cape Town’s jockey, said he thought “I had a big chance turning for home” when he was fourth, less than three lengths back. But Bailey summed it up for them all when he said, “I think the best horse won.”
Desormeaux returned with his colt to the winner’s circle. The crowd cheered loudly as he tipped his helmet to the stands.
No longer was it real quiet.

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