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A step behind Secretariat

Florida Derby winner Monarchos takes the Kentucky Derby in a sizzling 1:59 4/5, second fastest in history.

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 6, 2001


photo
[AP photo]
Jockey Jorge Chavez reacts aboard Monarchos as he is led to the winner's circle.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Monarchos doesn't look a bit like the great Secretariat, but he sure ran like Big Red in Saturday's Kentucky Derby.

In fact, only Secretariat has run the testing 1 1/4 miles of America's most famous horse race faster.

Monarchos carried Jorge Chavez across the finish line in 1:59 4/5, two-fifths of a second off the track record set by Secretariat en route to the Triple Crown in 1973.

Monarchos will try to follow that road on May 19 when he runs in the Preakness at Pimlico.

"Today I had more horse than I did at the Florida Derby," Chavez said.

After Monarchos won that race March 10 at Gulfstream Park, Chavez said: "He has everything he needs to win the Kentucky Derby. I've never been on this kind of horse."

The only other jockey who had was Ron Turcotte, who rode Secretariat.

While Monarchos was earning the roars and plaudits of a crowd of 154,210, second largest ever to watch a Derby, trainer Bob Baffert's favored Point Given was struggling home fifth in a field of 17 3-year-olds. Congaree, Baffert's other Derby hope, was third behind Invisible Ink.

"I was hoping to run 1-2," said Baffert, looking for his third Derby win in five years. "It's tough and disappointing."

Monarchos won by a dominating 4 3/4 lengths. But Chavez, trainer John Ward and owner John Oxley had to sweat out a foul claim by John Velazquez, who was aboard Invisible Ink. Velazquez claimed Monarchos interfered with him just past the quarter-pole.

"We interviewed both riders and did a critical review of the videos ... for any foul," chief steward Bernard Hettel said. "We could find no evidence of interference and we made the race official."

No winner of any Derby, Preakness or Belmont has ever been disqualified for a race infraction. Dancer's Image was disqualified after finishing first in the 1968 Derby when he tested positive for butazolidin, which is now legal in Kentucky.

"I certainly want to win the Kentucky Derby," said Todd Pletcher, who trains Invisible Ink. "But that would be a bittersweet way to do it."

Ward, a third-generation horseman from nearby Lexington, is proud to call himself "a hardboot."

"I just try to train the old-fashioned way," said the 55-year-old Ward, who shares training duties with his wife, Donna. "And I have to say this is one for tradition."

Monarchos, named for the Byzantine era Greek ruler Georgios Monarchos, was bumped by Point Given at the start before finding himself on the outside, ahead of just four horses on the first turn. On the far turn, he began moving past tired horses to position himself for his winning drive.

"He isn't that fast on the first turn, but once he hits his stride he explodes," said Ward, who won his first Derby in his second try. It also was the first Derby victory in the second try for Oxley and the first win in five Derbys for the 39-year-old Chavez, a native of Peru.

After Songandaprayer led the field through the fastest first half-mile in Derby history (44 4/5 seconds), Chavez stayed cool.

"He dropped inside and I just whipped him and he started rolling," the jockey said, referring to Monarchos' run down the backside. "I didn't ask for a lot, just a little."

Chavez guided Monarchos to the outside on the final turn and the gray started passing horses as he moved into contention at the quarter-pole.

"I touched nobody," Chavez said of the foul claim. "I was clear. My horse was exploding. I didn't even see Invisible Ink."

Like any owner of a Kentucky Derby winner, the 64-year-old Oxley was exultant.

"It's the fulfillment of a lifetime dream, actually several lifetimes," said Oxley, who owns a horse farm near Midway, Ky., and a Tulsa, Okla.-based oil and gas exploration company. "Nothing in any life experience is like winning the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs."

Monarchos went into the Derby as a 10-1 shot off a second-place finish to Congaree in the Wood Memorial. That performance did not bother Ward.

Instead, the trainer said it was the perfect prep to get a horse ready for the Derby.

The victory was the fourth in five starts as a 3-year-old for Monarchos, who paid $23, $11.80 and $8.80 and earned $812,000 from a purse of $1.112-million. That boosted his career earnings to $1,605,630 on a record of four wins, a second and a third in seven starts.

Invisible Ink, looking for his first stakes victory, paid $46.60 and $21.20. Congaree returned $7.20 after he finished 4 lengths in front of Thunder Blitz.

Point Given was 23/4 lengths behind Thunder Blitz and was followed by Jamaican Rum, A P Valentine, Express Tour, Fifty Stars, Startac, Millennium Wind, Arctic Boy, Songandaprayer, Balto Star, Dollar Bill and Keats. Talk Is Money did not finish.

The finishes of Point Given, the Santa Anita Derby winner, and Congaree had to be bitter disappointments for Baffert.

"Maybe he needed to be farther back. ... Maybe it was the heat. I don't know," Baffert said of Point Given, the favorite. "He just didn't fire his best shot."

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