Updated: Thursday, August 18, 2005 12:16 PM
Posted: Tuesday, August 9, 2005 2:45 PM
It was April 25, 1985, and a conversation among strangers on an elevator at Keeneland turned to jockeys. Never one to keep my opinion to myself, it was easy to offer as fact that there was no doubt as to who the best rider was.
Regulars to Keeneland and Churchill Downs over the last several decades became card-carrying members of the Pat Day fan club.
An interloper interjected a differing viewpoint, his home racing state easy to identify as he spoke in praise of a rider named Pincay.
We laughed and have remained good friends but those who had the pleasure of watching Day ride every day knew he was the best.
Countless times that patented Pat Day ride has been witnessed and marveled at--that uncanny ability to give a horse a breather on the turn for home so there would be enough in the tank for the stretch drive.
For several years, while leading Saturday morning Keeneland handicapping seminars for beginners, I would mention that roughly a third of the time, the post-time wagering favorite wins. But that was then followed by a caveat: "This percentage tends to be higher at Keeneland...because of Pat Day."
It was the norm for horses Day rode in Kentucky to be underlays. The fact so many won was the reason for his deserved nickname among bettors of "Pay Day."
It is well chronicled how Day devoted himself to Jesus and turned his life around from days of drug and alcohol abuse. He has been living his new life since January 1984.
Someone once asked if Day spoke too much about his Christianity and if it bothered me, being Jewish.
After laughing, it was time for a sarcastic remark: "If I'm waiting to bet on Jewish jockeys, I will sure save a lot of money today. 'My son the jockey' is not heard quite as often as 'my son the lawyer' or 'my son the doctor.' "
In all seriousness, Day is as generous a man as there is in racing, a man with integrity and morals beyond reproach. That he will now devote himself to the Racetrack Chaplaincy of America is a blessed thing...in any religion.
A list of the good deeds Day has done would be longer than the 8,803 races he won.
When Day was asked about writing a book on his life, it was explained to him that it would appeal to more than just racing fans because his is a life filled with inspiration. It is an uplifting story that would touch many.
He said if God told him to do such a book, he would. It was a simple answer, but one very descriptive of Pat Day. Much like how he announced his retirement recently, after a few days of deep meditation and prayer.
While working at The Racing Times in October 1991, I received a call from trainer Lynn Whiting in need of the Beyer Speed Figure on a colt that had just broken his maiden at Calder.
"Doubt that number is available yet," I told Whiting, "but I know a guy there who does his own figures and can probably help you."
Whiting called Chuck Streva, heard him explain how impressive the colt was, and after a physical and veterinary inspection, bought Lil E. Tee for Cal Partee.
Lil E. Tee made 11 more starts, the most important of which was at Churchill Downs May 2, 1992. In all 11 races, Whiting gave a leg up to Pat Day.
Walking through the third-floor box area at Churchill Downs about 30 minutes prior to the 1992 Kentucky Derby (gr. I), there stood a friend with whom conversations each spring often centered around the first Saturday in May. We discussed how we both liked Lil E. Tee. Day won what would be his only Derby win in 22 tries. Lil E. Tee remains important to Day, and to me as well. Even if I only played a small part in the Lil E. Tee story, it felt good to be associated with something that was so important to Pat.
Stakes winners and maiden winners, Pat Day rode them all the same way. He retires as the all-time leading money-winning jockey and ranks fourth by wins. He is in the Racing Hall of Fame. All of that is important to Day, but since his epiphany in 1984, he has had a different way of viewing his accomplishments.
We are lucky to have been able to watch him ride for so long.
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