Post positions in thoroughbred races, particularly those longer than six furlongs, seldom stimulate much comment, but in the 100th Derby they did just that because of the inordinately large field. The worst post position was the one on the extreme outside, Post 23, from which Buck's Bid, longest shot in the race at 75 to 1, had to break. Almost as bad was No. 1, the inside post, drawn by the 3-to-1 second choice, Agitate. When the gate opened and the jockeys whooped and whipped their mounts toward a reasonable spot for the long run to the first turn, it would be all too possible for Agitate to be pressured against the rail by horses to his right and never be able to get free.
Agitate went into the gate first, four minutes before Buck's Bid got in. "He behaved well, everything considered," said Jockey Bill Shoemaker. "It's a long time to keep a good horse like Agitate waiting, but what else are you going to do with that number of starters?" On the other hand, as soon as Buck's Bid was brought into Post 23 the race was on. "I didn't even have time to draw a breath in the gate before we were under way," Jockey Don Macbeth said.
Ultimately, Agitate finished third and Buck's Bid a respectable seventh—depending, of course, on just how much respect one has for 1974's clump of 3-year-olds. People streaked the centerfield flagpole faster than the plodding 2:04 in which the Derby was run. Still, both Agitate and Buck's Bid are likely to be important factors throughout the racing season. Their Derby performances were impressive in light of the poor post positions they had to cope with.
Both horses were brought to the race in fine fashion by their trainers, Jimmy Jimenez (Agitate) and Tony Bardaro (Buck's Bid). Neither had previously trained a Derby starter, and Bardaro had never even been to a Derby. "I'd seen some of them on television," he said. When Buck's Bid drew the outside post position, Bardaro commented, "I really don't know what you do or say when you draw Post 23. Heck, nobody has ever been out that far before. When I heard we had drawn 23 I sagged. I hoped we might draw someplace around the middle. Now, after sleeping on it and thinking it out, I've come to the conclusion that it's just as bad as I originally thought it was.
May 12, 1974
"I can't remember a race this important drawing so many starters," Bardaro went on, "although years ago at Belmont Park I saw as many as 28 horses run down the Widener chute. But that was a straightaway. This Derby is going to do one thing no matter who wins it—produce excuses."
Bardaro has had good success with horses in Florida and New Jersey and may run Buck's Bid in the Jersey Derby, although he said the event he really has in mind is the Belmont. "I know that this week in Louisville is kind of a rat race," he said, "but I'm used to being around a lot of horses, so I'm not too shook up. I've been training 13 horses at Hialeah and 15 at Garden State by telephone while I've been here getting Buck's Bid ready for the Derby."
Jimenez, a dapper 48-year-old protégé of Buddy Hirsch, for years one of the most respected American trainers, had been to Louisville before. "I saw War Admiral, Pensive and Citation win," he said. As for Agitate's No. 1 post position: "My horse is a good horse but there are better post positions for him than this. If I had my pick, it certainly wouldn't be the one I ended up with."
When Agitate was loaded into the gate he had 22 runners on his right and nothing but the fence on his left. Buck's Bid had 22 opponents on his left and nothing but a howling mob on his right. Agitate came out in good order but got bumped around later. Buck's Bid broke better than expected, was in good position fairly early and stayed there. His seventh-place finish left him 7½ lengths behind the winner, but he picked up some ground in the stretch.
Neither jockey seemed upset by the outcome. "I got jostled around," Shoemaker said, "but the horse did a fine job." Macbeth said, "Buck's Bid ran good. It wasn't the type of race that should discourage anyone."
A win for Shoemaker would have meant a fourth Derby and his 101st $100,000 victory. Had Macbeth won, it would have been his first Derby victory and his second $100,000 stake. After Shoemaker dressed, he walked quickly through the crowd of people in the clubhouse area. A man preceded him carrying the famous jockey's bag. A whip was stuck through the bag's handles; "The Shoe" was written on its sides. A few people gawked at Shoemaker, opened their mouths to say something and then ducked their heads into their Daily Racing Forms. Meanwhile, in the jockeys' room, Macbeth went to Angel Cordero's locker and plucked a long-stemmed rose from the bouquet that is given to the winning rider. He brought the rose back to his own locker and carefully put it in a green plastic pail filled with sponges and murky water.