At 7:15 p.m. on the eve of last Saturday's Preakness in
Baltimore, a dirty silver 1985 Plymouth carrying jockey Pat Day
pulled up to the curb at Louisville International Airport. The
car belongs to Day's agent, Larry (Doc) Danner, and everyone on
the Churchill Downs backstretch loves to tease Danner about it.
The standard line is, "How can you be Pat Day's agent and drive
an old heap like that?" Now, as Day climbed out of the car, he
looked back at Danner and said, "I'll wave at you from the
winner's circle tomorrow." Then he slammed the door and was gone.
Danner was skeptical, and he had good reason to be. Less than
two weeks earlier Day's Preakness mount, Louis Quatorze, had
struggled home 16th in the Kentucky Derby. Why should he improve
much in Baltimore? Had Danner had his druthers, Day would have
been trying to win his third consecutive Preakness for trainer
D. Wayne Lukas, who was on a remarkable six-win roll in the
Triple Crown races. Yet Lukas had booted Day off Prince of
Thieves, the third-place finisher in the Derby, and replaced him
with Jerry Bailey, the nation's hottest jockey.
"He was going to wave at me from the winner's circle?" Danner
recalled on Saturday. "I thought, Damn, that's strong. Louis
Quatorze had been beaten by 23 lengths in the Derby. But Pat was
confident. I guess he feels the Preakness is his race."
And so it is.
May 26, 1996
Day electrified the crowd of 85,122 at Pimlico by sending Louis
Quatorze straight to the lead in the 1 3/16th-mile race and
staying there, the first wire-to-wire Preakness winner since
Aloma's Ruler in 1982. And get this: The winning time of 1:53
2/5 tied the stakes record. How could a horse improve that much
in only two weeks?
"Louis Quatorze ran a great race, and he had the master on his
back," said jockey Shane Sellers, who finished second on Skip
Away. "If I didn't win, I'm happy that Pat won. There's some
justice there. I'm not saying anything against Mr. Lukas, but I
look at it from a rider's point of view."
From a pragmatic point of view, too, Day had much to recommend
him. Going into last Saturday, he had had four victories and
three seconds to show for his last 10 Preakness mounts. Day
notched the first of those Preakness wins in '85, on the
Lukas-trained Tank's Prospect, and had taken the last two
renewals of the classic with Lukas colts--Tabasco Cat in '94 and
Timber Country last year.
Yet Day hadn't done much for Lukas lately--certainly not as much
as Bailey, who on May 4 won the Derby for him with a virtuoso
ride aboard Grindstone, snatching the victory from Cavonnier,
with Chris McCarron aboard, at the wire. Said McCarron, noting
that Bailey is also the regular rider for the magnificent Cigar,
"It seems that everything Jerry touches these days turns to
But five days after the Derby, when Grindstone was retired with
a bone chip in his right front knee, Bailey was without a mount
in the Preakness. That put Lukas in a quandary. He didn't want a
rival trainer to sign up Bailey, yet he knew that Bailey
wouldn't agree to ride Victory Speech, the weakest of his three
Preakness horses (as Lukas's main jockey, Gary Stevens had the
first choice of horses and opted to ride Editor's Note, the
third horse in the entry). So on May 10 Lukas tempted fate by
replacing Day with Bailey on Prince of Thieves.
Danner went to work. He told Day, who was preparing to head for
Baltimore to ride Star Standard for trainer Nick Zito in the
next day's Pimlico Special, to tell Zito that he was available
to ride Louis Quatorze in the Preakness. Day forgot, perhaps
because he was too focused on riding Star Standard to victory.
Danner finally reached Zito on the afternoon after the Special.
"I was surprised," Zito said. "It's not like he's some young
jockey on the way up. This is Pat Day. He had won the last two
Preaknesses for [Lukas]. For him!"
Unlike Lukas, who kept his horses at Churchill Downs until the
Thursday before the Preakness, Zito brought Louis Quatorze to
Baltimore two days after the Derby. For the next nine days Zito
and his horse were virtually alone in the rundown Pimlico stakes
barn. "We had our own private training center," Zito said, "and
Louis reacted well." Upon arriving at Pimlico, Lukas insisted
that he meant no disrespect toward Day. "I know I may have done
Nick a big favor," he said. "But I made the decision, and I'll
accept the consequences."
So last Saturday, while Lukas was tending to his three entrants,
Day stood in the infield saddling area, listening intently as
Zito issued his instructions. "I want him to get into the race
quickly because there's no real speed in there," Zito told him.
Louis Quatorze got the lead easily. Although Day is best known
for his patience--he has often been criticized for waiting too
long to make his move--a rider doesn't win more than 6,000 races
without knowing how to control a race on the lead. That is what
Day did, adroitly guiding the colt through brisk fractions of
:23 for the first quarter mile, :46 1/5 for the half and 1:09
4/5 for six furlongs.
His 11 rivals bided their time, waiting for Louis to wilt.
Through the final turn Day kept looking back to see who was
coming. But all he saw was Skip Away. As the horses turned for
home, Skip Away moved up alongside Louis Quatorze and looked
quite capable of pounding past him. But after Day waved his whip
next to his colt's head, Louis pulled away. At the wire he was 3
1/4 lengths ahead of Skip Away and another 14 ahead of Prince of
Thieves, who finished seventh under Bailey.
Day's actions just past the finish line were more pointed than
anything he said in his postrace press conference. He pumped his
left fist three times, then held up five fingers in celebration
of his fifth Preakness win. The message was clear: Take that, D.
By the time he met with the press, however, Day's emotions were
in check. "I'm not happy to see [Lukas's] streak end," he said,
"but I'm glad that my streak continued."
O.K., Pat. Keep turning the other cheek if you must. But now
that you've shown everyone that the Preakness is your race,
there's only one more question: How can you let your agent drive
a car like that?