Many handicappers had predicted that Thunder Gulch would tail off coming into the Florida Derby, but his trainer certainly didn't. "I expected him. to take a step forward, but I didn't expect Suave Prospect to take that same step," Lukas said. "I told [ Zito] he did a beautiful job with his horse."
That was scant consolation for Zito, who refers to his rival as Darth Vader because of Lukas's trademark dark glasses. After winning last year's Kentucky Derby with Go for Gin, Zito watched his colt finish second to the Lukas-trained Tabasco Cat in the Preakness and Belmont. Now he has to wonder if Suave Prospect will finally be able to beat Thunder Gulch when they renew their rivalry on April 15 in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland. "We've got [Suave Prospect's] number," Lukas said.
As for Bailey, he's along for the ride either way. "Maybe we can't beat Thunder Gulch," Bailey said. "I don't know. But in my heart I believe I've got the better horse."
Bailey may have been disappointed about coming so close in the Florida Derby, but he was hardly heartbroken. In the 12th and final race on the card, he claimed the track-record seventh victory aboard a horse called Heavy Rain, then headed back to the jockeys' room surrounded by a cluster of backslappers and autograph seekers shouting things like, "You're the Man, Jerry."
Inside the jocks' room Bailey received a hug from Jorge Velasquez and some ribbing from Craig Perret about riding his bicycle to the track that morning. He turned serious for a moment when asked if he would trade his seven wins for the big one that got away.
"Not really," Bailey said. "It was a great day even though I didn't get the one I wanted most."