TERRY FINLEY'S FINAL DERBY THOUGHTS
I can't believe Derby Morning is finally here. Another beautiful day in Louisville.
We get up early to go to the backside and visit the Bull. He just walked the shedrow, in preparation for the Derby. The backstretch crowd is about 1/3 of what it was yesterday. The electricity is in the air, it's palpable on the faces of the Derby trainers.
After getting dressed at the hotel, the family and I park on the backstretch and walk on the outside of the racetrack to begin our Derby Day. We see Phil Helmuth, the famous poker player in the tunnel to the paddock. Ryan, my son, is a huge poker fan and enjoys meeting this guy who always wears sunglasses and stands about six foot six.
Watch Megapunch walk into the gate for the second race as a 4/5 favorite. He runs dead last and we find out later he has a pretty good lung infection. Not a good start.
We take care of some issues with partners getting seats and lunch reservations. Our host, Ryan, will be a big help getting people into the paddock and onto the track for the walkover later in the day.
We get to the tent in the Marquis village and it's packed with partners. The entire thing costs about $80,000 for two days and it's too small and they don't serve enough food. That's OK because we run a horse in the Derby later that afternoon....
The NHL representative, Jamie, brings the Stanley Cup to the tent and people stream into our area to touch it and get photos taken with the most venerable trophy in the world. Four guys who play for the Philadelphia Flyers show up to support their teammate, Chris Therien.
The tent gets too cluttered with people.
The races, spaced about an hour apart, seem to drag on and on. At about 4:00, everyone gathers in the tent to hear an a cappella group sing "My Old Kentucky Home." Man, I can't believe it - we are going to run our first horse in the Derby in about two hours.
At 4:30, the partners gather outside of the Marquis Village and one group goes straight to the paddock and the others begin the walk toward barn 42 which houses Derby starters Flashy Bull, Barbaro, Jazil, Brother Derek and Sweetnorthernsaint.
About 15 minutes before the walkover, we gather in the grassy area outside Flashy Bull's stall. What a feeling.
The bridles are put on all the Derby starters and they begin to walk around the shedrow. At about 5:00, the paddock judge blasts over the backstretch speaker, "Horsemen, bring your horses over for the 10th race, bring your horses over to the paddock for the 10th race, bring them to the paddock for . . . the Kentucky Derby."
Flashy walks out of the barn but hesitates with the crush of media right outside the door – they give him another turn around the shedrow and he walks a second time without incident.
He stops with his ears pricked just before getting on the path to walk to the racetrack. I walk over to him and pat him between the eyes and say "thanks for the ride, Flashy."
The Bull leads us as we begin the journey to the paddock. I see a few guys from NBC who I've gotten to know over the years like Kenny Rice and Mike Battaglia - each wishes the West Point team good luck. We walk through a gauntlet of people and enter on the mile chute for about five minutes before getting the word to proceed to the paddock.
The Finley family is four across the track as we walk right behind Bull. Erin is on my right, Debbie on my left and Ryan next to Debbie.
We are one from the rear in the order of march of all the Derby starters. The crowd is juiced. We walk along at a good clip but I want to slow it down - to make it last.
We see Governor Pataki from New York on the first turn right in front of the box seats. As we get closer to the paddock tunnel we hear more and more encouragement from friends in the industry.
Buzz Chace and a client are in a third-floor box above the tunnel and yell our name just before we make the turn. I mouth "thank you" to Buzz for his work on our behalf over the years. He just shakes his head and smiles.
Little bit of a screw up in the middle of the tunnel - they hold up everyone without a paddock pass - we get almost all of the partners in the paddock and head to the number 20 stall. The paddock is packed. We don't even get a chance to see the jockey before we exit the paddock to work our way up to the box for the Derby.
We get to the box just as the first string of "My Old Kentucky Home" is being played - have to admit - it didn't move me like the rendition we heard in the tent but is was cool nonetheless.
What really struck me was looking at the last horse in the post parade as the horses jogged away after breaking off toward the top of the stretch. There was Mike Smith wearing the Black and Gold silks. We are finally in the "Big Dance."
Announcer Luke Kruytbosch says "One left to load, Flashy Bull" just before they spring the latch.
Bull breaks awkwardly and seems very wide the entire run down the lane for the first time. They turn down the backside and I know we are not in a good spot. He must be 10 wide. Going into the far turn I see him stick his head in the picture on the big screen and I shout out, "oh my God." As they turn for home I see him fanned out even wider and he basically just gallops the last eighth of a mile. I figure Mike Smith knew he wasn't going to get a piece and simply took care of our colt. Good assumption, this is what Mike tells Kiaran after the race.
Cheers for Barbaro as he comes back to the winner's circle. Edgar Prado is a class act, as is trainer Micheal Matz. I'm really happy for both of them. Barbaro could be a superstar. Sure would be nice.
The Finley family heads to the tunnel to begin the walk back to the barn. There are no negative feelings on the walk back. What a week and what an experience. We walk to the barn just as we had walked over to the paddock an hour before - with our heads up.
Flashy Bull is already cooled out. He had a wide, uneventful trip and did not get banged around or cut up – we are grateful. He'll live to fight another day.
What a great experience for the partners and West Point. It's what we all dream about and our dreams came true on Saturday.
Let's just hope it doesn't take us long to get back to Louisville on the first Saturday in May.
Flashy, thanks for the memories.