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

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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.

What to know about the 151st Belmont Stakes

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Rogue riderless horse Bodexpress won’t make an appearance at the 2019 Belmont Stakes, but the 151st iteration of the race won’t be without major star power. Mark Casse‘s War of Will looks to claim the third jewel in the Triple Crown just three weeks after his 2019 Preakness Stakes win and a month removed from the 145th Kentucky Derby, where he was one of the horses most impacted by the disqualified first place finisher Maximum Security. The field is set to be a combination of Derby and Preakness horses, some of which have never met before—only fitting for a race known as the “Test of the Champion.”

What is the Belmont Stakes? The Belmont Stakes is the last leg of the American Triple Crown of horse racing. Like the Derby and the Preakness, it’s a Grade I Thoroughbred stakes races. The Belmont Stakes is 1 1/2 miles, or 12 furlongs, which makes it the longest race in the Triple Crown.

The Belmont is run on the dirt track (also known as “Big Sandy”) at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York. It was first raced in 1867, making it the oldest jewel in the Triple Crown (and the fourth oldest race in North America). However, the race wasn’t run in 1911 or 1912, which is why the Kentucky Derby is still the longest continuous sporting event in the country. The Belmont always been run in or around New York City, having raced at Jerome Park (now closed), Morris Park (also closed) and Aqueduct in addition to Belmont, which is just east of Queens.

Aside from being the last hurdle for Triple Crown contenders, the Belmont is known for Secretariat’s 31-length victory in 1973, which sealed his Triple Crown title and set the current world record at 2:24 for 1 1/2 miles on dirt.

When is the 2019 Belmont Stakes? The 151st Belmont Stakes is on Saturday, June 8. Post time will be at approximately 6:50 p.m. ET.

What is unique about the Belmont Stakes? The Belmont is the final test for horses seeking a Triple Crown title. Horses have an additional week of rest between races as opposed to the Preakness, but the Belmont is also the longest race of the three.

Belmont Park is only a few miles away from New York City, and city dwellers can just hop on the Long Island Rail Road for a day at the races. The annual Belmont Festival features several days packed with racing and other events. This year, hip-hop artist Flo Rida will perform on June 8.

How can I watch the 2019 Belmont Stakes? NBC is home to the 151st Belmont Stakes, providing comprehensive race coverage and analysis live on TV and NBCSports.com before, during and after the main event. Get started with NBCSN on Friday, June 7 at 5 p.m. for the Belmont Gold Cup. NBCSN coverage continues on Saturday, June 8 at 2:30 p.m. before moving to NBC at 4 p.m. See the broadcast schedule here.

Who are the horses to watch?

  • 2019 Preakness winner War of Will could become just the 12th horse in history to lose in the Derby but come back to win both the Preakness and Belmont. The last horse to do this was Afleet Alex in 2005. “WOW” crossed the wire 8th at Churchill Downs and was elevated to 7th.
  • Trained by 2019 Kentucky Derby winner-trainer Bill Mott, the easy-to-spot gray horse Tacitus finished fourth in the Derby and was elevated to third.
  • Longshot Preakness runner up Everfast and third place finisher Owendale will look for redemption against War of Will.
  • Master Fencer was one of the biggest surprises of the 145th Kentucky Derby. Not only did he become the first Japan-bred horse to race in the Run for the Roses, but he defied expectations and finished 7th (elevated to 6th), crossing the wire ahead of fellow Belmont competitor War of Will.

Who won the 2018 Belmont Stakes? WinStar Farm’s colt Justify, trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Mike Smith, won the 150th Preakness Stakes to become the 13th-ever Triple Crown winner.

What comes next? NBC Sports is home to all things Breeders’ Cup and will have comprehensive coverage from Santa Anita on Friday, Nov. 2 and Saturday, Nov. 3. Qualifying races for the 2020 Kentucky Derby will start back up in the late winter and early spring of next year on NBCSN. Racing fans can also hope for a competitor in Gary West‘s $5 million challenge to the horses impeded by Maximum Security that they can’t beat him in a race.

3rd horse in 9 days dies at Santa Anita

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ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) Santa Anita had its third horse death in nine days when a gelding pulled up during a race and was euthanized.

Twenty-six horses have died in racing or training at the Southern California track since Dec. 26.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Kochees sustained an injury to its left front leg in a 5 1/2-furlong race Saturday.

Kochees was taken off the course with a splint. The newspaper says during surgery Sunday it was determined that the 9-year-old horse had lost blood flow to the leg and the decision was made to euthanize.

Santa Anita is scheduled to host the Breeders’ Cup Nov. 1-2. It’s considered the biggest two-day event in U.S. horse racing.