Racing's Holy Grail - The Epic Quest for the Kentucky Derby-Chapter 1

Racing's Holy Grail - The Epic Quest for the Kentucky Derby-Chapter 1
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Editor's Note: Steve Haskin is an award-winning turf writer and senior correspondent for The Blood-Horse. During his 29 years with the Daily Racing Form, Haskin became known for his insightful coverage of the Triple Crown races. Haskin won the Red Smith Award for Kentucky Derby writing in 1997, 1999, and 2000.and received the David Woods Award for best Preakness story in 1997. In 1999, he co-authored "Baffert: Dirt Road to the Derby" with trainer Bob Baffert and wrote the books, "Dr. Fager" and "John Henry" for Eclipse Press'"Thoroughbred Legends" series. In his latest book, "Racing's Holy Grail - The Epic Quest for the Kentucky Derby," Haskin takes readers behind the scenes and into the trenches as he examines what it takes to win the world's most famous horse race. He plumbs the secrets of successful trainers, the common pitfalls that hinder so many others, and the enigmatic nature of the race itself. The following excerpt is from Chapter 1:


Chapter 1 -- They Just Don't Get It

I'll never forget the day Arazi arrived in Louisville. As a fan, I desperately wanted him to win and was hoping maybe he was a superhorse of such magnitude he could overcome everything he had going against him. But that hope was slim, and I knew it.

For a brief moment during the race, it looked as if the fairy tale were going to come true. Arazi once again made a breathtaking move, this time well out in the middle of the track, that carried him from seventeenth to third. It literally took my breath away. The grandstand shook, and my hands trembled as I attempted in vain to keep my binoculars steady. God, I was wrong all along, and I loved it. This was indeed the second coming. Pegasus was sprouting wings right before my eyes. But then, just like that, reality hit with the force of a sledgehammer, knocking all the dreamers square on the head. Arazi's explosion fizzled. The little French colt who had captivated two hemispheres like no other horse in history was mortal after all. He retreated to eighth and also from the minds of those who had worshiped him.

What is the moral of the Arazi story? When you look at the statistics regarding Derby favorites and you see that only one favorite has won in the past twenty-two years, don't make too much out of it. In retrospect, would you consider horses like Althea, Air Forbes Won, Snow Chief, Rockhill Native, Proud Appeal, and Marfa (and his entrymates Balboa Native and Total Departure) legitimate Derby favorites? Or even legitimate mile and a quarter horses?

We know now that 1990 Derby favorite Mister Frisky ran in the race with a grapefruit-sized lump in his throat that would almost cost him his life. We know now that Demons Begone, wearing front bandages and having built his reputation as a three-year-old solely at Oaklawn Park, had no chance in the 1987 Derby after bleeding profusely and pulling up down the backstretch. We know now that Indian Charlie (1998) was at a disadvantage with only four career starts, and that Unbridled's Song (1996) was fighting a losing battle, suffering from a quarter crack and wearing cumbersome egg-bar shoes. We know now that General Challenge (1999) did not have the mental fortitude to handle a race like the Derby. And, we know now that Point Given (2001) was being bothered by a nagging foot ailment during Derby Week.

In short, we know now that it is easy to make a horse the favorite when he doesn't deserve to be and that sometimes legitimate favorites are simply doomed from the start because of unforeseen circumstances. The dreadful record of Derby favorites over the past two decades has nothing to do with horses at all. It has to do with people. We are the culprits, not the favorites to which we bestow an honor that is now looked upon with such ambiguity.

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