The Power of Ten

By Morton Cathro
When owner Jerry Moss attached his green-and-pink colors to slot 10 during the post-position draw for the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), he unwittingly was saddling Giacomo for a wild ride through storied Derby history.

Three days later, the unheralded gray colt, with a "10" emblazoned on his saddle cloth, did his part, stunning the racing world and adding his dramatic story to the numerous "perfect 10s" that have preceded him in the revered Run for the Roses.

Nick Zito had chosen 16 for favored Bellamy Road, a post that produced three recent Derby winners; Todd Pletcher wanted the auxiliary gate to give Bandini room to maneuver; others chose various posts for other reasons. But in the end, gutsy Giacomo--possibly with an assist from the unfathomable Power of Ten from the occult world of mathematics--triumphed over them all.

In the 1973 Derby, Secretariat, breaking from post 10 (but wearing saddle cloth 1A as the entrymate of Angle Light), validated his claim to immortality by winning for the 10th time in 13 starts and setting the Churchill Downs track record of 1:59 2/5 that stands to this day.

In 1989, Sunday Silence, ridden by Patrick Valenzuela and wearing number 10, launched his rivalry with Easy Goer, winning the Derby by 2 1/2 lengths over his odds-on (coupled with Awe Inspiring) opponent in muddy going. Two weeks later in the Preakness (gr. I), he beat Easy Goer again. In the Belmont (gr. I), the Phipps color-bearer turned the tables, winning by eight lengths. In the historic showdown that fall, Sunday Silence defeated Easy Goer by a neck in one of the greatest of all Breeders' Cup Classics (gr. I).

The legendary rivalry featuring eventual Triple Crown winner Affirmed versus Alydar carried over from their 2-year-old battles into the 1978 Derby. Alydar, wearing saddle cloth 10, had to settle for second. He was second again to his lifelong nemesis in both the Preakness and Belmont, losing all three Triple Crown races by a total of less than two lengths.

The immortal Native Dancer, Alfred G. Vanderbilt's "gray ghost of Sagamore," brought his unblemished, 11-straight record into the 1953 Kentucky Derby, only to be roughed up by Money Broker. Finally in full stride, he just failed to catch 25-1 shot Dark Star, who wore number 10 in that fateful Derby, handing the only loss in 22 lifetime starts to one of the great horses of the century.

In 1968, Dancer's Image, dead last and 14 lengths behind, rallied to win despite his rider, Bobby Ussery, dropping his whip during the long stretch drive with his stubborn rival, Forward Pass. But a post-race test revealed a prohibited substance in Dancer's Image, and ultimately Forward Pass, the 10 horse, was declared the winner. The decision by the Kentucky State Racing Commission came too late to affect mutuel payoffs, but purse money and the winner's trophy were awarded to Calumet Farm, owner of Forward Pass. The issue was argued in the courts for years, but the ruling stood. Ironically, the prohibited substance, Butazolidin, later became legal in all racing jurisdictions.

The '80s saw several "perfect 10s" besides Sunday Silence take center stage in the Derby. The filly Genuine Risk, who drew post 10 in 1980, humbled 12 male competitors at odds of 13-1--the first filly to win the Derby since Regret in 1915. In '83, Sunny's Halo started from the 10-hole and defeated 19 rivals, giving jockey Eddie Delahoussaye back-to-back Derby wins.

The following year saw trainer Woody Stephens place a number 10 saddle cloth on Swale, a son of Seattle Slew, who went out under Laffit Pincay Jr. to beat 19 opponents as well. Swale then gave the veteran conditioner the third of what would be a record-breaking five consecutive victories in the Belmont Stakes.

Modestly bred Lil E. Tee from Pennsylvania flaunted his number 10 under Pat Day to lead a parade of longshots to the wire in 1992, leaving in his wake foreign whiz kid Arazi, who the year before had run away with the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I)...

And so it goes. Perhaps for future Derby draws, the horseman's commandments should include Thou shalt not ignore the Power of Ten.