LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Strike the Gold swept to a historic victory in the 117th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs yesterday, leaving 15 rivals and a racing myth in his wake.
With Chris Antley aboard, the colt finished 1 3/4 lengths ahead of Best Pal, with Mane Minister third, Green Alligator fourth and Fly So Free fifth. Hansel, the 5-2 favorite, faded to 10th.
The son of Alydar became the first Derby winner since 1929 not to qualify on the Dosage system. Many experts had used the complicated formula -- which assigns a number to a horse's pedigree -- to determine which horses could or could not win the race. No horse with a Dosage over 4.00 had won in 62 years. Strike the Gold's Dosage is 9.00.
"He had the Dosage and some things against him," said Antley. "There were doubts about him, but not from me."
Strike the Gold, the 9-2 third choice, lagged in 12th place after a half-mile, then launched a bid on the outside entering the final turn. He gained ground quickly, and by the time he passed the eighth pole, he was widest of all and in front. With his left hand, Antley gave him six cracks of the whip, then waved it in jubilation after completing the 1 1/4 miles in 2 minutes, 3 seconds, well off Secretariat's 1973 record of 1:59 2/5.
"Before we even got three or four lengths from the front, I knew I had it won," said Antley. "By the time I got to the quarter pole, I did see another horse moving pretty good on the inside, but I was moving fast myself."
Best Pal, the only gelding in the field, was the horse trying to rally inside. Having started from the No. 15 post, Best Pal was ahead of Strike the Gold with a half-mile left. Strike the Gold was wide but clear of traffic, while Best Pal's jockey, Gary Stevens, saved ground and waited behind tiring horses.
didn't want to run with him until the quarter pole," said Stevens. "I thought I was a winner. The last sixteenth, I was hoping Strike the Gold would drift out faster than he'd go forward.
"I'm very happy with my horse's performance. He gave me everything he had."
Strike the Gold drifted very wide in the final yards, reminiscent of the Derby victory by Sunday Silence two years ago.
"I hit him pretty good, that's why," Antley said. "Winning this is unbelievable. When I was galloping out, I was trying to figure exactly what I'd done. I raised my stick in the air, and I didn't want to put it down. I wanted to keep it up and keep enjoying that feeling."
Under overcast skies and in humid, 80-degree weather, Sea Cadet set the early pace, with Corporate Report and Forty Something racing closest. Fly So Free, who broke from the No. 1 post, also was close, while Hansel maintained good position before eventually nearing the lead with a quarter-mile remaining.
"Although he did keep pace to the top of the stretch," said Hansel's jockey, Jerry Bailey, "there wasn't much punch left after that."
Fly So Free, the 2-year-old champion of 1990 and the 3-1 second choice, "had perfect position and a perfect trip," said his rider, Jose Santos. "I really asked him about the turn for home, but he just came up empty."
Neither the betting favorite nor the 2-year-old champion of thprevious year has won the Derby, first leg of racing's Triple Crown, since 1979, when Spectacular Bid won in both roles.
Strike the Gold became the second winner for his sire, who died last year at 15. Alysheba, in 1987, was Alydar's first Derby winner.
"This horse did everything right coming into the race," said trainer Nick Zito, who exuded confidence in the days leading to the Derby. "What can I say? He's just a super, super horse.
"I'm no Charlie Whittingham," said Zito, a 41-year-old Long Island, N.Y., resident, referring to the Hall of Fame trainer. "But there's nothing fancy about this game. You've got to be lucky and you've got to be blessed."
Zito, who had run just one other horse in the Derby -- Thirty Six Red, ninth last year -- said there had been second-guessing BTC about Strike the Gold's final workout before the Derby. On Wednesday, the colt breezed four furlongs in a slow 51 2/5 seconds.
"But he finished in 22 [in the last quarter-mile, a fast time]," said Zito. "I said you've got to stick with what got you here. We trained him just the way we did before he won the Blue Grass [Stakes]."
Strike the Gold, owned by B. Giles Brophy, William J. Condren and Joseph M. Cornacchia, was making his eighth career start. It was his third career victory, but certainly his richest -- from a Derby-record $905,800 purse, the winner's share was $655,800.
While Hansel and Fly So Free -- two of the Big Four, along with the top two finishers -- were obvious disappointments, Mane Minister and Green Alligator were the race's pleasant surprises. Mane Minister was an 86-1 shot, and Green Alligator was so lightly regarded that he was grouped in the lowly five-horse mutuel field.
"I was so excited with the way he was passing horses," said Mane Minister's rider, Alex Solis. "I didn't get in any trouble."
Chris McCarron, on Sea Cadet, had the bob-tailed colt in front in fractions of 23 1/5, 46 2/5, 1:11 1/5 and 1:37 2/5. Strike the Gold became the first to pass him in mid-stretch, and then Sea Cadet faltered and finished eighth.
"The distance took its toll on him," said McCarron.
Zito did not commit himself to running Strike the Gold in the Preakness in Baltimore on May 18, but intimated that he would run if Strike the Gold came out of the Derby in good order.
"The horse will tell me what to do," said Zito.
1. Strike the Gold
2. Best Pal
3. Mane Minister
4. Green Alligator
5. Fly So Free
8. Sea Cadet
9. Corporate Report
11. Happy Jazz Band
12. Lost Mountain
13. Another Review
15. Wilder Than Ever
16. Forty Something