After sour Derby, it was satisfying Day of reckoning JOCKEY 119TH PREAKNESS

May 22, 1994|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Sun Staff Writer

Pat Day called it a "picture-perfect trip." The jockey aboard Preakness winner Tabasco Cat almost had seen it coming.

Day knew Tabasco Cat wasn't himself when he finished sixth in the Kentucky Derby two weeks before.

"Who's to say what the reason was?" Day said. "I've ridden him since last fall, and I know the colt didn't run his race.

"Then, the Monday after the Derby, he was like a bearcat. It was like he had been disappointed in his performance. No fire. Hadn't given it his best shot."

Yesterday, Tabasco Cat clearly did. His victory over Go For Gin gave Day his third Preakness victory. He also won on Tank's Prospect in 1985 and Summer Squall in 1990 and has finished below second only once in the past six Preaknesses.

From the outset, Tabasco Cat instilled confidence in Day.

"I was thrilled with him in the saddling area," said Day, 40, who became a member of racing's Hall of Fame in 1992. "He was composed, relaxed. In the post parade, he did a little buck-jump [kicking up his hind legs]. Then he settled nicely, which added to my confidence. He stood good. Broke from the gate good."

Tabasco Cat settled in behind the leaders in fourth place, eased out when necessary and split Silver Goblin and Polar Expedition.

"It was like it had been developed on paper," Day said. "He got to the head of the stretch without my asking him. At the eighth pole I said, 'Let's go for the money.' When I asked, he responded, and we went after Go For Gin.

"When we turned for home, I felt we had it any time we wanted it. We crept by Gin."

And won by three-quarters of a length.

Day's childhood dream was to become a professional rodeo cowboy, but when he tried it after high school, he realized there wasn't much money in it. He took friends' advice: Become a jockey.

The value of his first win in 1973 on Forblunged was all of $631. Things have improved dramatically since. In 1991, Day became the sixth jockey to surpass $100 million in purse earnings, joining Laffit Pincay Jr., Angel Cordero Jr., Bill Shoemaker, Chris McCarron and Jorge Velasquez.

Next for Day and Tabasco Cat? Perhaps the 1 1/2 -mile Belmont Stakes in three weeks?

Quite possibly. It will depend in part on how Tabasco Cat rebounds from the Preakness.

"He knows he ran a race, but he wasn't reaching the bottom of the barrel," Day said. "You don't want to squeeze the lemon dry. He gave just enough to get the job done today. We'll look at the Belmont. I don't think it's a problem."

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