Jockey Mark Guidry took the overland route to get back to the Kentucky Derby (gr. I). Forget about going seven-wide on the final turn, Guidry went about 2,000 miles out of his way to find the mount that would bring him back to Louisville the first Saturday in May.
The leading rider on the Chicago circuit for much of the 1990s, Guidry in recent years stepped up in company to get on the Florida/Kentucky/Saratoga circuit. He did reasonably well with the opportunities presented, but made the decision over the winter to head west and try his hand at Santa Anita Park near Los Angeles, having gotten a commitment for mounts from trainer Jeff Mullins.
Now, a longshot named Buzzards Bay, winner of the Golden Gate Derby in January and the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) in April, is bringing Guidry back full circle to Churchill Downs.
"I never dreamed this would pop up when I moved out here, not at all," said the affable 45-year-old rider. "It's very gratifying. You know, one door closes and another one opens. A lot of time, business gets us down; we're not doing what we think we should be doing. Then God gives you something, and I'm very grateful."
Guidry, one of the jockeys who walked out at Churchill Downs last November, doesn't regret his action, as he feels it has led to the industry embracing the insurance issue for jockeys, and to better coverage at racetracks around the country. But he'd just as soon concentrate on what's in front of him than on the past.
And he believes he's got a very live longshot for the world's biggest race. "I wouldn't trade places with nobody," he stated in the Cajun cadence of his native Louisiana. "It don't hurt none being an underdog. In my mind, I know he shouldn't be as long a price as wherever they put him. Sure, there's still pressure, little brother. This is the big show. But we're gonna put all 31 years of experience in there and do what I know how to do."
Guidry has known how to find the winner's circle more than 4,610 times in his career. His first big horse was Black Tie Affair
, and more recently he has taken stakes with runners such as Balto Star, She's a Devil Due, Sand Springs, and Political Attack.
But it is Fog City Stable's Buzzards Bay who's bringing Guidry back for his third Derby ride (he was 10th with Deputy Warlock in 2000 and 14th with Balto Star the following year). "Right now he's doing well, worked in 1:11 this morning (Monday) and went super. I'm excited, bro," said the rider. "He ran a monster race for me at Golden Gate, real gutsy and game. Then he ran big at Bay Meadows even though he bled."
Buzzards Bay ran biggest winning the Santa Anita Derby, sending himself and Guidry to the Derby. Guidry said he became emotional riding onto the track for his first Derby, knowing his family was in the stands. This time around, he's getting his game face on early.
"I'm already getting moody," he laughed. "Normally, I'm pretty laid back and nothing bothers me. I already told my wife to handle all the people who are coming and all that.
"When the gates open, that's when everything else goes to the side and it's just you and your horse. You've already done your homework and tried to figure out what's going on. I try not to get too smart and start thinking instead of reacting. I'm gonna' put it in the little horse's hands, see where he wants to take me."
It's already been a significant journey.