Slop is a winning tonic for 'Gin' Zito's colt leads most of way to win Derby by 2 lengths

May 08, 1994|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Sun Staff Writer

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Go For Gin switched roles with the faltering favorite, Holy Bull, yesterday and won the 120th running of the Kentucky Derby in near wire-to-wire fashion on a sloppy track.

"You're a fighter champ. Lead all the way. You've got one furlong to go. I love you, God. I love you, America," screamed trainer Nick Zito as he watched Chris McCarron aboard the mud-loving colt maintain his unexpected lead into the stretch at Churchill Downs and defeat the lightly raced, late-running Strodes Creek by two lengths.

Zito, of whom the horse's owners, William Condren and Joe Cornacchia, said, "will never be accused of being phlegmatic," said he envisioned victory two days ago "when I dreamed Jeff Lukas hugged me."

Lukas, who was run over last December and nearly killed by Tabasco Cat, watched the race on television from his home in Arcadia, Calif. Tabasco Cat, trained by Lukas' father, D. Wayne Lukas, finished sixth yesterday.

Blumin Affair, another colt making a strong stretch bid, finished third, 2 1/2 lengths behind Strodes Creek.

When 2-1 favorite Holy Bull broke flat-footed and was squeezed back behind four horses at the start and never came close to making the lead, McCarron surprisingly went to the front with Go For Gin.

After out-running brief pacesetter Ulises, McCarron then maintained control for the rest of the 1 1/4 miles, finishing in 2 minutes, 3 3/5 seconds, the slowest time since Sunday Silence won in 2:05 in the mud in 1989. Ulises had held up the start for about a half minute when he reared and initially refused to go into the starting gate.

"Nick told me if no one is in a position to press Holy Bull, then this is a colt who might want to run a little more freely and not to discourage him," McCarron said. "The first thing I was thinking is that I was going too fast and he wasn't relaxed. But after I got around the first turn, he got into a nice, smooth rhythm. After that I pushed the pedal at the 3/16ths pole and he cut. He finished very strong although he was drifting at the end. I looked under my legs and I was really happy when I saw nobody coming."

It was the second Derby victory not only for McCarron, who first won in 1987 aboard Alysheba, but also for Zito and owners Condren and Cornacchia of New York, who won with Strike the Gold in 1991.

The rain, which started falling on Friday and then continued through the night and intermittently yesterday, soaked the course with nearly an inch of moisture and provided the first sloppy track for a Derby in 46 years. Citation was the last horse to win on a sloppy track in 1948.

Zito, who described Go For Gin as a "superior mud runner," said the rain and the track condition were definite factors in the colt's victory.

"But we can't put a dome over the racetrack. We can't ask God not to let it rain," he said.

Holy Bull, who at one point was as close as fourth down the backstretch, fell back around the final turn, finishing 12th in the 14-horse field, 18 1/4 lengths behind the winner. It was the 15th straight loss for a Derby favorite, and only the second defeat for the gray colt in nine career starts.

Holy Bull's jockey, Mike Smith, said at no point did the horse feel like running.

"It seemed like every step he made was the wrong one," Smith said. It was Smith's second straight Derby loss on a favorite. He finished second last year aboard Prairie Bayou.

While Go For Gin was running easily along in front, things were less smooth behind him.

On the first turn, Powis Castle on the inside came out and caused Valiant Nature to check sharply off his heels. Valiant Nature almost fell.

"That horse was running straight and all of a sudden he came out," said Laffit Pincay Jr., riding his 19th Derby on Valiant Nature. After that incident, Valiant Nature faded and finished 13th, although Pincay said later the horse seemed to come out of the race OK.

Second choice Brocco also had a rough trip. Like Holy Bull, he broke slowly, was rushed up into contention on the back side, going alternately from the inside to the outside, then tired in the stretch and finished fourth.

"He just walked from the gate," said his rider, Gary Stevens. "I popped him on the shoulder to get him on the bridle and he picked up. But he made up too much ground too fast. It was too early. 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."

Jockey Eddie Delahoussaye was impressed with the second-place performance of Strodes Creek.

"He's a big green thing. When he learns to run, he's going to be something. We lost a little ground around the last turn. He's so big, I hated to stop him," Delahoussaye said. "He was just plodding along, but he really got it in gear down the stretch, but that other horse, he was long gone. It was fast early, but some of the horses we thought would be on the lead weren't."

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