Getty Images

Looking back at Pat Day’s unlikely Kentucky Derby win 25 years ago

1 Comment

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) This was no time for Pat Day to be patient.

It paid off for a lifetime.

Known for being a strategic jockey, Day was aboard 16-to-1 longshot Lil E. Tee when the horse broke well from the gate and held his ground in the pack until he found a hole.

The horse rallied from 10th to stalk overwhelming favorite Arazi late and then pass Casual Lies to win the 1992 Kentucky Derby in 2:03.04. Day jumped off and gave praise, throwing his hands to the sky in triumph.

That pose would eventually be immortalized in bronze in the paddock at Churchill Downs. Day, a Hall of Famer, relives how it felt to get his signature victory every time he visits.

Tuesday marks 25 years since Day rode from the No. 10 post position to an upset victory at Churchill Downs. That 1992 win in his 10th attempt turned out to be Day’s only triumph in the Run for the Roses.

“With Arazi, I thought the race was for second place,” Day, 63, said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. “Arazi opened up a four, five-length lead, but I started to think maybe I could run for second place.

“That’s when I put Lil E. Tee to the test and he responded and blew past Arazi and Casual Lies. To say the least, it was satisfying.”

His presence looms large at the track where he earned a record 2,481 of his 8,803 career victories, a total that includes five Preakness and three Belmont wins. The third annual Grade 3 Pat Day Mile will be run on Saturday in the run-up to the 143rd Derby.

The silver anniversary of what Day calls his most significant achievement holds extra meaning because the colt’s trainer, Lynn S. Whiting, died at 77 on April 19 following a struggle with cancer and a stroke.

Day and Whiting celebrated the 20th anniversary of Lil E. Tee’s victory and the jockey said they had looked forward to another joyous observation this week. The jockey paused while sorting through mixed emotions of recognizing the milestone without Whiting. He then recalled the glee he felt when he and his friend got to smell the roses together.

“He was just an astute horseman,” Day said of Whiting, whom he began working with on Lil E. Tee as a 2-year-old.

“And all things being equal, you knew he’d get the best out of a horse. I had confidence in him and he had it in me.”

Then, as now, the four-time Eclipse Award winner credited his faith in God for overcoming drug and alcohol abuse and enduring setbacks such as several competitive Derby finishes before and after his lone breakthrough.

“I was where God had me to be and doing what he had me to do,” Day said. “Whether I won or didn’t win, Hallelujah! But I sure went to the wire with that feeling that I wanted to win.”

Day had four seconds and two thirds in the Derby, begging the question of how many more times he could have won. Rather than wonder what if those other times, the jockey sometimes referred to as “Patient Pat” is thankful for having multiple opportunities to win the sport’s marquee race.

And Day’s mastery of Churchill Downs stoked confidence that his spot in the winner’s circle at the Derby was just a matter of time and opportunity. Lil E. Tee delivered with a performance that quickly and perfectly fell into place.

“It just goes to show that even the great jockeys don’t get that many chances to win the Derby,” said fellow Hall of Famer Steve Cauthen, who rode Affirmed to the Triple Crown in 1978. “It was great for him to win the Derby and win it for Lynn Whiting.”

Jubilant as he was, Day stresses that he would’ve been fine without that win. Fortunately for him, he never has to wonder otherwise.

Wood Memorial boosts purse to attract top horses

Getty Images
Leave a comment

NEW YORK — The Wood Memorial purse could increase to $1 million as part of a bonus created to entice the top 3-year-olds to run in the Kentucky Derby prep on April 7.

New York Racing Association officials said Saturday that the presence of any horse in the field with a previous Grade 1 or Group 1 victory would increase the purse from $750,000 to $1 million if the qualifying horse starts. In that case, the winner would receive $590,000, the runner-up would earn $190,000 and third would be worth $90,000.

The Wood is run at 1 1/8 miles at Aqueduct. The race is part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby prep series that awards 100 points to the winner, 40 to second, 20 to third and 10 to fourth. The top 20 horses on the leaderboard earn starting spots in the Derby on May 5.

Jack Van Berg dies at 81

AP Photo
Leave a comment

Jack Van Berg, a Hall of Fame trainer who oversaw Alysheba to victories in the 1987 Kentucky Derby and Preakness, died Wednesday. He was 81.

He died in a Little Rock, Arkansas, hospital, according to a spokeswoman for Oaklawn Park, where Van Berg had relocated his training base after leaving Southern California in 2013. No cause was given.

Van Berg ranks fourth all-time among trainers in North America, with 6,523 victories from 41,164 starts, according to Equibase. He had career purse earnings of $85,925,482.

In the Derby, Alysheba and jockey Chris McCarron were nearly knocked down at the top of the stretch by Bet Twice. Alysheba recovered and won despite having just one career victory before the Run for the Roses. Alysheba won the Preakness to set up a try for the Triple Crown but finished fourth in the Belmont.

As a 4-year-old, Alysheba won the 1988 Breeders’ Cup Classic and went on to earn the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year.

Van Berg saddled Gate Dancer to victory in the 1984 Preakness. That same year, he earned the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Trainer.

Van Berg was elected to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1985. His father, trainer Marion Van Berg, already was there, having entered in 1970.

From 1959-77, Van Berg was the leading trainer at Ak-Sar-Ben racetrack in Omaha, Nebraska. In 1976, he won a record 496 races and was the nation’s leading trainer, with $2,976,196 in purse earnings.

In 1987, Van Berg became the first trainer to win 5,000 races when he saddle Art’s Chandelle to victory at Arlington Park outside Chicago.

He trained in Southern California for 41 years until moving to Oaklawn in Hot Springs, Arkansas, after Hollywood Park closed in December 2013. Van Berg blamed the cities of Inglewood and Los Angeles and the state of California for the track’s closure.

“I just think it’s a pathetic thing,” he said at the time. “It’s ridiculous to let something like this that so many people love and thrive on close. They did everything they could to kill racing. I’ve had enough. I don’t like California racing anymore. I don’t like the way they run it and what they do.”

Van Berg mentored Hall of Famer Bill Mott, who began as an assistant to him.

Born June 7, 1936, in Columbus, Nebraska, John Charles Van Berg began training for his father in the 1960s. The elder Van Berg trained nearly 1,500 winners but was more successful as an owner, winning 4,691 races and $13,936,965. He was the first inductee of the Nebraska Racing Hall of Fame, and his son followed him.