Dennis Diaz, who created a stir by bypassing a chance to win the Triple Crown with his 1985 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Spend a Buck, died July 2 at his Tampa, Fla., home. He had battled cancer for over a year.
Diaz was swayed by a $2-million bonus offered by Garden State's Robert Brennan for a horse that could win the Cherry Hill Mile and Garden State Stakes in New Jersey, and then go on to win the Kentucky Derby and Jersey Derby (gr. III). Spend a Buck won the first three races in the series, but instead of running him in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I), Diaz chose to run him in the Jersey Derby. Spend a Buck won the Jersey Derby and not only collected the $2 million bonus, but also $600,000 of the original $1 million purse. Diaz also bypassed the Belmont Stakes (gr. I).
In an attempt to make sure the "Spend a Buck" incident wouldn't happen again, officials at Churchill Downs, Pimlico, and the New York Racing Association conceived a Triple Crown bonus that largely stayed in place until the last several years.
Spend a Buck, whom Diaz bought privately for $12,500, won the Kentucky Derby in 2:00 1/5. It was the third-fastest at the time and ranks as the fourth-fastest now. He was retired in the middle of his 3-year-old season and entered stud at William S. Farish's Lane's End Farm near Versailles, Ky. Farish had bought an interest in Spend a Buck after the Jersey Derby. Spend a Buck was standing in Brazil in November of 2002 at the time of his death.
Diaz, who left racing in recent years, is survived his wife, Peggy; sons Elliott and Michael; and his mother, Wanda.