LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Five days before the premier race that tests the competitiveness of the 3-year-old thoroughbred, Crypto Star was training with a jarring lack of interest, and his jockey, Pat Day, shook his head.
"I'm not real crazy about his lack of enthusiasm," Day said yesterday as the horse walked the shedrow after his workout and bath. "He's not gotten real competitive yet."
Those are curious statements about a horse who has not finished worse than third in six starts and has won four races, including the Louisiana Derby and Arkansas Derby with furious, come-from-left-field rushes.
But Crypto Star, despite his record and obvious talent, succeeds grudgingly. Day has ridden him to victory in his past two races, but each time the jockey known for judicious use of the whip has nearly worn out his arms smacking the muscular brown rump.
"If I sit back and let him cruise into the race, he'll cruise right out the back door," Day said. "Even with encouragement on my part, he's dropped so far out of it because of total lack of interest early."
In Louisiana and Arkansas, the son of Cryptoclearance won after trailing by more than 14 lengths. Day rode aggressively both times, urging the horse early and flailing him late.
In the Arkansas Derby on April 12, he struck him for the first time unusually early -- with a half-mile left in the 1 1/8-mile race.
"At the half-mile pole, I hit him," Day said. "And I had to hit him two, three times, pretty hard."
And he kept hitting him. "He passed all the horses, but only because I made him run," Day said.
He compared Crypto Star's reluctance, which has not hurt him yet, to a person's performance on the job.
"If you have somebody doing something for you that they want to do, they usually perform better than when you make them do it," Day said. "But I'm guardedly optimistic that given time, maturing and racing, he will become a little more competitive."
Crypto Star's trainer is former jockey Wayne Catalano, 40. He rides the horse during morning workouts -- he rode yesterday, not Day -- and was downright giddy after the extremely slow move of seven furlongs in 1 minute, 31 seconds.
"Excellent," said Catalano, bouncing on the balls of his feet. "He handled the track perfect."
The track was muddy from Sunday's showers. The forecast through Saturday is for clear skies and temperatures in the 60s and 70s, except for tomorrow, when rain is possible.
"He was just getting started," Catalano said of the workout. "Everything is perfect."
Catalano is a small, hyperactive fellow with glasses, better known as a former jockey than a trainer. During the 1970s and '80s, he rode 1,792 winners, many in Michigan, where he was to that state what Day is to Kentucky.
Now, he trains horses in Illinois and Louisiana. Like Gary Capuano, the Maryland trainer of Captain Bodgit, Catalano is little-known outside his region. Also like Capuano, this is his first Kentucky Derby.
"It's like a lifetime dream for any racetracker, me included," Catalano said. "It's the ultimate race."
Catalano got the horse from Evelyn and Darrell Yates, owners from Illinois who have never before come close to owning a Derby horse. Most of their horses are homebreds, but they bought Crypto Star at the 1995 Keeneland September yearling sale for $100,000.
Within the past couple of months, they have turned down offers of up to $3 million.
"They've been tempting," Darrell Yates has been quoted as saying. "But I guess everybody in racing gets in with the hope of someday going to the Kentucky Derby. I said to Evelyn: `If we sell him, we'll probably never get there.' So, we decided to hang onto him."
And now, they own a horse for whom the Derby distance of 1 1/4 miles and the long stretch at Churchill Downs were seemingly designed.
Yesterday, after jockey Shane Sellers worked his Derby mount, the co-favorite Pulpit, Sellers said the horses he considers most dangerous are Captain Bodgit and Crypto Star.
Crypto Star, he said, is a lightly raced horse getting better all the time. He pointed out that Day chose to ride Crypto Star in Arkansas instead of Ordway, the beaten favorite in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile, in the Wood Memorial Stakes in New York.
"Day's like E. F. Hutton," Sellers said. "When he talks, you'd better listen."
Crypto Star is following in the footsteps of another lightly raced colt who trudged through Louisiana and Arkansas on his way to Kentucky. That was Grindstone, the surprise winner of last year's Kentucky Derby.
"You want them coming around at this time, and maybe we are," Catalano said of Crypto Star. "It's kind of scary to think what he might accomplish if he ever wakes up and figures out what he's supposed to do -- scary for the rest of them."
Pub Date: 4/29/97