Craig Perret emerged from the shower in the jockeys' room wearing a white robe, a cigarette and a small smile. A reporter asked him how it felt.
"You ever write a bad story?" he answered. "Ever write a bad one and then it's too late and you can't get it back? That's how it feels."
He folded his arms. Brushed back his wet hair with his hands. Left his cigarette dangling on a table. What, you wanted him to cry?
"I'm gonna go home and eat and sleep and be fine," Perret said. "I did what I did. I picked the wrong horse. It's what happens sometimes."
What happened was Perret gave up the ride on Pine Bluff to ride Alydeed in the Preakness yesterday, then watched Pine Bluff pass him in the stretch on the way to the winner's circle. Alydeed finished second.
"I rolled the dice and lost," Perret said. "You want me to feel bad, I don't."
A more superstitious person would lock himself in his house for the next month. Talk about a sign that fate is working overtime against you. Perret rode Pine Bluff in eight of his 11 races leading up to the Preakness, including the Kentucky Derby, in which the horse finished a dull fifth.
So, here was the horse redeeming himself at Pimlico with a brilliant stretch run and a win in the only Triple Crown race Perret never has won, and where was Perret? Getting coated with dirt the finish line -- dirt kicked onto him by Pine Bluff, ridden by Chris McCarron. Ouch.
"We have all been where Craig is right now, and no, it is not a good feeling," said Gary Stevens, who rode Casual Lies to a third-place finish. "But it's something that goes with the game. We all understand. Craig understands."
What, you wanted him to cry? It just doesn't happen in the jockeys' room, not for this reason. You have to understand: top jockeys make choices every day they race, and they know not to get greedy. Perret's decision cost him $34,000, but he still could smile.
Jockeys are no different from baseball players in their approach to a capricious game. You don't get cocky when you hit a home run because you probably will strike out tomorrow. As the cliche goes: What goes around, comes around.
You wanted Perret to cry? Get serious. Two years ago, he won the Kentucky Derby on Unbridled only because Pat Day turned down Unbridled for the chance to ride Summer Squall. Then Perret gave up Unbridled for Summer Squall in the Breeders' Cup Classic that fall, and Day got to ride Unbridled to the win. See? What goes around, comes around.
"We all make a lot of choices," Perret said. "You try to make the right one. Some choices are tougher than others. You go with your heart."
Perret never expected this choice to arise. He agreed to ride Alydeed in March because the horse is a big, talented Canadian-bred, and Perret saw a shot at the high payoffs for the top races in Canada.
"I wasn't looking for a Triple Crown horse," he said. "But it just so happens that the horse grew and grew and got good enough to run here."
Did he ever. Perret was among the first to recognize what a lot of people saw yesterday: Alydeed is perhaps the most naturally talented horse in this year's Triple Crown. It is by no means a nag that almost wins the Preakness in his second race around two turns, just his fifth race overall. Whew.
"I think everyone is going to have trouble with this horse from now on," Perret said. "He's so full of talent, it's something. He was the only one out there today on the way up. I rode the best horse. He just didn't win."
Perret saw the potential conflict arising as soon as Alydeed's trainer, Roger Attfield, began pointing the horse to Baltimore. But it was uncertain whether the horse would even be able to race here. His lack of career earnings could have knocked him out of the full field. And there was a controversy about his use of Lasix.
Ten days before the race, there was no guarantee Alydeed would run. Pine Bluff's trainer, Tom Bohannan, was gracious with Perret. Bohannan obviously would need to a new rider if Perret jumped off Pine Bluff. "But Tom told me I could wait and see what happened, which was nice," Perret said.
By last weekend it was pretty clear that Alydeed would qualify for the race. Perret called Bohannan with the news: He wanted Alydeed. Bohannan was not upset with the insult to his horse.
"I told my owners that this was the same jockey who had given up Unbridled before the Breeders' Cup Classic, so we shouldn't put too much stock in it," Bohannan said. "We still felt real good about the horse."
Fittingly, it turned out. "When you choose wrong, sure, it's bad," Perret said. "But my horse ran big, and he's going to be the favorite wherever he goes. If someone had to beat me, I'm glad Mr. Bohannan won the race. He's a gentleman."
What, you wanted him to cry? Sorry. "Listen, I will toast Mr. Bohannan tonight," Perret said. "Three weeks from now [at the Belmont] he will toast me. And you want me to be upset?"