2001: Monarchos

Sunday, May 6, 2001
MONARCHOS REIGNS
EXPLOSIVE FINISH ON FAST TRACK YIELDS 2ND-FASTEST DERBY TIME EVER
By Maryjean Wall, Herald-Leader Racing Writer
On a racetrack surface packed so tight that records toppled through the afternoon, Monarchos headed home in the 127th Kentucky Derby yesterday with his eye on the most sacred record of them all.
Secretariat’s 1:59 2/5 loomed large within his sights. Jockey Jorge Chavez might not have guessed how close he was to Secretariat’s sacred territory when he made his enormous move past horses on the turn. But he knew he was flying.
His colt exploded with such power that Chavez felt confident this Derby would belong to Monarchos, owner John C. Oxley and trainer John T. Ward Jr.
Chavez was right: Monarchos got to the front and raced home to win by 4 3/4 lengths — the biggest winning margin since Spend a Buck in 1985. Monarchos stopped the clock in 1:59.97 (or 1:59 4/5).
Invisible Ink was second, a nose ahead of Congaree. Thunder Blitz followed 4 lengths behind in fourth. Monarchos paid $23 as sixth betting choice, while the 9-5 favorite and heavily hyped Point Given finished fifth.
Monarchos’ time made this Derby the second-fastest ever — only two-fifths of a second short of matching Triple Crown winner Secretariat’s standard that has stood untouched for 28 years.
This Derby also registered the fastest half-mile (:44.86) and the fastest three-fourths of a mile (1:09.25), as well as tying for the second-fastest mile fraction (1:35).
Only the perspective that the future can provide will put the fractions and the final time of this Derby in their proper place, however. Churchill Downs’ surface played in such a way that three track records fell yesterday, and not necessarily for horses that will be regarded as Secretariats.
Track superintendent Butch Lehr said the track was watered heavily because of high heat and humidity. He thought that helped horses grab hold of the surface and race faster than normal.
Monarchos still would have won this Derby, regardless of how the surface was packed. It was his move on the final turn that won the race for this dark-gray son of the young sire Maria’s Mon.
He came from 13th in the first half-mile and 10th after the first three-fourths of a mile. He was six horses back on the final turn when he jetted into the lead.
Monarchos did not go directly to the Derby winner’s circle, however. He had to wait outside the hallowed enclosure while stewards considered a foul claim lodged by jockey John Velazquez on second-place Invisible Ink.
No Derby winner has ever been disqualified on a claim of foul. Few foul claims are even lodged in this race. But Velazquez took his shot, insisting that Monarchos cut him off near the pole that marks a quarter of a mile to the finish.
“He came over and almost touched my horse,” Velazquez argued, saying he felt he had to steady for two jumps. After watching replays, the three stewards disagreed, and named Monarchos the official winner.
“I don’t even see him,” said Chavez, who won the Derby in his fourth attempt at riding the race. Invisible Ink? “I don’t know where he was. My horse was exploding. When I let him go, he just go.”
The foul claim was memorable for the suspense it provided after the race. But more memorable will be the remarkable move Monarchos made on the final turn, when he came from about 10 lengths off the pace.
It was reminiscent of the way he finished while winning the Florida Derby in mid-March.
That race set up Monarchos as a red-hot prospect for the Kentucky Derby. But many of his newfound fans bailed out after he lost the subsequent Wood Memorial in New York to Congaree. That fact, along with the depth of quality in this Kentucky Derby, were the reasons Monarchos went postward as the sixth choice at $10.50 to $1.
Trainer Ward’s faith was not shaken, however. Neither was the faith of Oxley, an oilman from Tulsa, Okla., who owns Fawn Leap Farm in Midway.
Ward, a third-generation horseman whose family long trained horses on property at Keeneland’s back gate, and whose uncle, Sherrill Ward, had trained the mighty Forego, felt the Wood actually set up Monarchos beautifully for the Kentucky Derby.
He knew that Monarchos got just what he needed from the Wood — without taxing himself so soon after the Florida Derby. He knew he was bringing a fresh horse to Churchill Downs.
He felt his horse had prepared so perfectly for the Derby that he did not breeze him in the week before the Derby. Monarchos became the first since Bold Forbes in 1976 to win the Derby without a workout during the final week.
That was a bold decision on Ward’s part, for this field of 17 was widely acknowledged as the deepest in quality in some years.
Ward acknowledged that he put himself on the line with his faith in Monarchos. “But we weren’t going to waver for anybody,” he said. “I have never seen this horse stop his drive.”
Because Monarchos takes time to get in gear, he raced far back in the field while Songandaprayer took the lead, stalked by Balto Star.
That was a slight surprise, for Balto Star had been expected to go right to the front. Songandaprayer’s jockey, Aaron Gryder, said, however, that his colt outbroke Balto Star.
The other fast horses in this race that were heavily loaded with early speed — Keats and Millennium Wind — raced right behind Songandaprayer and Balto Star down the stretch the first time, around the first turn and partway down the backstretch. Millennium Wind and Keats changed positions on the backstretch, then Songandaprayer dropped back to fourth.
Point Given, the heavily hyped favorite, moved from seventh to second around the final turn, even before Monarchos was in gear. His stablemate, Congaree, took the lead on the turn and Gary Stevens, riding Point Given, didn’t want the fast Congaree to get away from him.
But the chase was futile. Point Given wasn’t himself.
“He never felt comfortable out there,” Stevens said about Point Given.
But Monarchos was flying. In the stretch, he had only Congaree to catch.
“The last sixteenth, I know I’ve got it,” Chavez said. And as Congaree faded to third, Invisible Ink — a colt that nearly died of colic last year — gained ground from fifth on the turn to pass Congaree for second.

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