Tuesday, May 10, 2011

SPORTS >> Race notebook full of history

Leader sports writer

Arkansas Derby winners have fared better in more recent runnings of the Kentucky Derby.

Archarcharch’s disappointing 15th place finish on Saturday aside, nine winners of Oaklawn Park’s crown-jewel event have gone on to finish in the money at Churchill Downs since the Arkansas Derby began in 1936.

Smarty Jones, the 2004 Arkansas Derby winner, and Sunny’s Halo, the 1983 winner, stand as the only two thoroughbreds to have won both events. There have been three Arkansas Derby winners to place in the Kentucky Derby since No Le Hace in 1972, and four to show since Ruhe in 1951.

Ruhe placed third behind Count Turf and Royal Mustang after winning the Arkansas Derby, then known as the Oaklawn Handicap. Ruhe was owned by Emil Denemark and trained by Robert McGarvey, and was ridden to victory in Hot Springs and third in Louisville by Utah native Job Dean Jessop.

No other Arkansas Derby winner placed at Churchill Downs for over two decades until 1971, when jockey Phil Rubbicco rode No Le Hace to victory at Oaklawn and to a second-place finish behind Riva Ridge in the Kentucky Derby field of 16.

No Le Hace, owned by Joseph W. Strauss and trained by Homer Pardue, stood as the highest finishing Arkansas Derby winner at Churchill Downs until Sunny’s Halo was victorious in both races 11 years later.

Elocutionist finished third at the Kentucky Derby in 1976, as did Golden Act in 1979.

Elocutionist, owned by Eugene C. Cashman and trained by Paul T.Adwell, was best known as the winner of the 1976 Preakness Stakes at the Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland.

A persistent leg injury prevented Elocutionist from attempting to finish in the money in all three Triple Crown events.

The horse did not enter the Belmont Stakes, was retired to stud duty and died in 1995.


Archarcharch trainer Jinks Fires, a native of Lexington, Ky., and his son-in-law Jon Court were making their first appearances as competitors at the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on Saturday.

Fires, 70, and Court, 50, have been a tandem for almost two decades, and became family in 1998 when Court married Fires’ daughter Krystal.

They have had successful careers, but always fell short of making the field for the most prestigious event in their sport.

“There were times in my career when I gave up hope of ever racing in the Kentucky Derby,” Court said.

But Archarcharch’s late charge in the last quarter-mile of the Arkansas Derby last month gave Court one of the biggest victories of his career, giving himself, Archarcharch, Fires and owners Bob and Val Yagos of Jacksonville their first trip to the Kentucky Derby as competitors.


Dialed In was the oddsmakers’ favorite in the Kentucky Derby after another of the early favorites, Uncle Mo, was withdrawn late Friday when doctors discovered a gastrointestinal infection.

But there was only one favorite as far as many fans were concerned — 23-year-old jockey Rosie Napravnik.

Napravnik, a native of New Jersey, was only the sixth female jockey in the Kentucky Derby, and was the first to finish in the top ten with a ninth-place run aboard Pants on Fire.

Napravnik has over 1,000 victories in her six-year career, which puts her on pace to become the most successful female jockey in horse racing, though she still has a way to surpass the 3,704 victories Julie Krone earned in her 20-year career.


Saturday’s Kentucky Derby was the first since the retirement of longtime announcer Tom Durkin, who cited stress as a leading factor for his exit.

That made way for Larry Collmus, 44, who got his start as a teenager calling horse races in his native Maryland.

Collmus crept into the national spotlight late last summer with a brilliant play on names during a race at Monmouth Park, with a bit of fate and luck interjected.

Two of the horses, one named Mywifeknowseverything and another named Mywifedoesntknow, both made late-race moves and battled side by side to the finish line. Collmus began alternately calling the horses’ names.

“They’re 1-2 — of course they are,” Collmus said at one point.

A clip from the race made the Internet rounds and the unknown Collmus became a household name in racing circles.