Jockey Pat Day turned some heads Thursday morning at Churchill Downs while working out a pair of horses for the first time since November. The 51-year-old Hall of Fame rider worked one for trainer Patrick Byrne and the other for Frank Brothers, as he stepped up his preparation for his return to competition following hip surgery performed in late March.
"It felt good," said Day. "The second one felt better than the first one. The legs are still a little weak, but the air is good, and it's coming in the right direction."
Day is named on three mounts at Churchill Saturday – in the first, third and ninth races – but said he'll only ride if he's ready.
"The excitement and enthusiasm is there," said Day. "I just want to make sure it's right before I get out there. I don't want to get out there and get sloppy the last eighth of a mile. If I can't start and finish good, I don't want to come out there."
Agent Doc Danner accepted the rides for Day, but cautioned that the rider could still opt for more time before making his official return to competition.
Day underwent surgery to repair damage to the cartilage that lines his right hip on March 30 in Vail, Colo. His surgeon, Dr. Marc Philippon, cleared him to return to the saddle a few days prior to the Kentucky Derby. But Day, displaying the patience that has made him a legend in the saddle, decided to wait until he felt the time was right. That snapped a record string of 21 consecutive Derby rides for Day, who is the all-time leading rider and stakes winner at Churchill Downs.
"Right now the hip is good. I think the hip could withstand it," he said. "It's just a matter of conditioning, and I think that'll come quickly."
Day spent Kentucky Derby Day as an observer. He and his family looked on from the clubhouse as fellow rider Mike Smith gained his first Derby win aboard longshot Giacomo.
"It was great fun," said Day. "We had a favorable seat up on the third floor and got to schmooze with the patrons, take some pictures and sign some autographs. We had a good time, but it was not like being on track."
And Day does not want to see two Derbys in-a-row from the stands anytime soon.
"No, no - I want to be back on the track," said Day. "If anything, it certainly fired that desire up. It'd be nice to get back out there and be in the infield (winner's circle) one more time."