This trainer already understood the Kentucky Derby’s cruel fates. Then came a photo finish.


Category:  Sports

Via:  hallux  •  3 weeks ago  •  2 comments

By:   Chuck Culpepper - WaPo

This trainer already understood the Kentucky Derby’s cruel fates. Then came a photo finish.
Trainer Chad Brown said of Sierra Leone, the colt Mystik Dan beat by a nose in the 2024 Kentucky Derby: “In my mind he ran the best race.”

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T


LOUISVILLE — Sports, that sprawling beast capable of dispensing joy and meanness in near-equal portions, seems to have it out for one trainer from New York when it comes to the Derby from Kentucky. Maybe it resents his Cornell degree.

At his Churchill Downs barn Sunday morning, Chad Brown spoke of the inches, and how the inches govern fates almost as if they’re giggling while they do it — and how the inches are everywhere, even if they come in the form of a horse’s nose, the margin of defeat on Saturday .

“In any professional sports, you know, at the high level, no matter what, all the major sports, it can all come down to inches, related to so many different sports, so many different championships, so many different final games,” he said. “When you’re on the winning end, it’s great, and when you’re on the losing end, you realize how really tough it can be.”

If it’s easier somehow to lose without the tantalization of hearing your horse’s name called during the stretch run, then the 45-year-old Brown hasn’t had it easier even if he has won two Preaknesses, 16 Breeders’ Cup races and four Eclipse Awards as outstanding trainer.

“And Normandy Invasion is storming home! And they’re into the stretch! And Normandy Invasion has taken the lead on the outside! Orrrrbbbbbb!”

That’s  Kentucky Derby race announcer  Larry Collmus’s call from 2013, when Brown first entered the Derby, and his  Normandy Invasion gave way to Orb  from Brown’s old boss, the great Shug McGaughey. That seems easy to digest even if it did wreak a brief gasp of wonder.

“Justify and Good Magic start to pull away from the others. And they’re into the stretch! And it’s Justify and Mike Smith turning for home in front, Good Magic and Jose Ortiz a length behind as they come into the final furlong!”

That’s Collmus from 2018, when Brown had Good Magic, and   Justify had a Triple Crown five weeks later . That seems easy to process.

“Epicenter has taken the lead, as they arrive into the final furlong! Zandon is coming after him! Epicenter and Zandon, these two, stride for stride … They’re coming down to the wire! Epicenter. Zandon. Rich Strike is coming up on the inside! Oh my goodness! The longest shot has won the Kentucky Derby! Rich Strike has done it, in a stunning, unbelievable upset!”

That’s Collmus from 2022, and Brown had Zandon, and, okay,  that’s starting to get mean .

“And it’s Mystik Dan, down toward the inside, with the lead in the final sixteenth. Forever Young. Sierra Leone is coming! These three, coming down to the wire! Who’s it going to beeeee? Oh, it’s a photo finish! Oh, it’s a photo, was it Mystik Dan, or was it Sierra Leone?”

That’s Collmus from Saturday evening, calling the first three-way photo finish in a Kentucky Derby since Jet Pilot, Phalanx and Faultless in 1947, which would be won by Mystik Dan. And that’s Sierra Leone who ran the best race in the 20-horse field without the smoothest trip. And that’s by a nose or an inch or a demisemiquaver or however you want to call it. And, okay, now that’s tilting toward harsh.

Now Brown won’t run Sierra Leone in the Preakness. (Trainer Ken McPeek isn’t sure he’ll run Mystik Dan, either.) One inch shifts the landscape, and it’s a good thing horsemen and horsewomen seem to come equipped with some kind of extra organ that allows for a near-breezy expectation of the worst.

“So I went into the Derby very optimistic,” Brown said. “I really felt like I had the best horse. Nobody was really gonna convince me otherwise. And I wasn’t out here to broadcast it, but I knew what I had. But I also went in prepared for the absolute worst, because it’s just such a hard race to win. So many things have to go right, right up into the weather. I mean, the day before, the track’s a mess, and yesterday it dried out fine, but I don’t know, just, little things can change fate. This horse runs great on big, sloppy tracks, and I’m sort of wishing now that the race was on Friday. Maybe it would have been different.

“It can be brutal dealing with the agony of defeat sometimes, but I went in very confident but absolutely expecting all the things that can go wrong.”

Not only did he have the ugh of the inch, but the ending featured something sure to have a shelf life in the lore among concerned citizens and conspiracy theorists. The roughhousing between Sierra Leone and Forever Young toward the wire did not reach the level of 1933, when Don Meade aboard Brokers Tip and Herb Fisher aboard Head Play brawled with sticks upon their horses in the stretch, then brawled again in the locker room.

It featured Sierra Leone leaning, another contributor to the eventual inch, as jockey Tyler Gaffalione said Saturday: “He wanted to lean in today and made it a little difficult. I hard a hard time keeping him straight and that definitely cost us. He gives you everything, very responsible, but he loses concentration.”

But how to explain those photos showing Gaffalione reaching over and maybe grabbing at Forever Young? Gaffalione wasn’t around Sunday morning, but Brown did the explaining.

Amid the fatigue and the leaning and the bumping, Brown said, Gaffalione tried to clear a path to use his left stick on Sierra Leone without using it on Forever Young, which would be “obviously a foul,” Brown said. “So he’s trying to create a path not only to use it to straighten out my horse, who really respects that, he’s trying not to foul the other horse with his stick if he strikes the horse.”

He wasn’t surprised there wasn’t an inquiry. “I understand what he was attempting to do,” Brown said, “and I understand what the other horse was attempting to do.”

He spoke from the quieter barn, while the inch decreed that the hubbub bubbled at another. McPeek, Mystik Dan’s trainer, waited for a live TV interview, and hero jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. stood among three reporters still fielding questions one day after he used the inside and saved ground. “And when you look at that photo finish," McPeek said, "I think we needed all of it to hold off the second- and third-place horses.”

Brown had been worried Saturday leading up to the race, having studied the day’s earlier charts and noticed no winner had rallied from more than three lengths.

“In my mind he ran the best race,” Brown said of Sierra Leone, the $2.3 million purchase. “It’s no disrespect to the winner. It’s a hard race to win. Everything has to go right. With the winner, the horse showed up and he was prepared right and he ran terrific and you have to have a trip where everything goes right. He was actually in front of Dornoch. I mean, nobody would have thought that. And then [Joel] Rosario [aboard Track Phantom], you know, makes room, and then the horse goes through [to the stretch].

“It’s not his fault the doors opened for him. I wish that happened for me. I don’t think less of the winner’s performance. It’s just that example of two trips in a 20-horse field. And so everything went right ... and the trips some of these winners had, I studied the last few years, what dream trips, you know. That’s what has to happen here. There’s a lot going on.”

If ever Brown gets one of those, you might say sports can be fickle.


jrDiscussion - desc
PhD Principal
1  seeder  Hallux    3 weeks ago

Fake news from WaPo ... /s

Professor Principal
2  JohnRussell    3 weeks ago

Great race yesterday. And the pageantry of the Derby was in full bloom. It is a unique sporting event on the American calendar. 


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