Lukas is obviously obsessed with winning the Derby. In the 15 years between 1981 and '95, he started 26 horses in the race and won it twice. This year he entered five horses, a record for a trainer, which gave him more than a quarter of the field. The Derby is supposed to show who has the most horse, not the most horses, and Lukas's efforts to stack the deck elicited snickers among students of his monomania. "Championships are won with depth in every sport," he said last Friday. "These colts don't compromise each other's chances. We're realistic about winning number six. We know statistically it's not supposed to happen. But we thought that about number five, too."
In the days before the Derby, Lukas's chances began looking better as those of the favorite, Unbridled's Song (another son of Unbridled), began to flag. Unbridled's Song suffered a painful crack in the hoof wall of his left front foot while winning the Wood Memorial on April 13, and over the next three weeks, as his handlers fiddled with ways to keep him sound and in training, he went through more shoes than Imelda Marcos, from standard bar shoes to Z-shaped bar shoes to, finally, egg-shaped bar shoes—all of which are designed to keep the sore hoof from making contact with the ground. Unbridled Song's chances appeared further compromised when, after missing a day of training early last week, he drew the far outside post, number 20—later reduced to 19 when a horse scratched—from which he would have to hustle for position before the first turn. His prospects looked even grimmer in the post parade when, during the playing of My Old Kentucky Home, he tried to climb over his lead pony.
All of which made his performance even more extraordinary. Out of the gate, as the Lukas-trained Honor and Glory gunned into the lead, the fluidly moving Song, under Mike Smith, got clear of inside horses and came over to save ground on the first turn. Sixteen lengths behind him, Bailey saw an opening on the rail and let Grindstone drift into it. "I had him positioned so he wouldn't get jostled," Bailey said afterward. "I took as little energy out of him as I could."
Down the backstretch Smith had an armful of horse, and Unbridled's Song moved to the leaders with long, powerful strides. Just off the rail Bailey, laying 15th, saw the herd moving ahead of him—"It looked like there were 100 horses in front of me," he said—and spotted a stablemate, Prince of Thieves, under Pat Day. He decided to follow him into the far turn, thinking Day might escort him through the traffic. Up front Honor and Glory was baking himself dry through six furlongs in 1:10, the third-fastest three-quarter-mile split in Derby history, when Smith let the Song out a tad and charged into the lead. A roar went up.
Meanwhile, Bailey was picking and weaving through traffic, turning first inside, then outside, as he made the bend. Sweeping past horses into eighth place going into the turn, Grindstone was eight lengths behind Unbridled's Song, who led the field by two. But in the final turn, the Song went wide as he began to slide on the smooth-bottomed bar shoes. "As soon as I put him under extreme pressure, he began slipping and hobbling," Smith would say later.
At the top of the straight, in what would prove to be the pivotal move of the race, Bailey swung Grindstone outside Unbridled's Song and Cavonnier, who flinched slightly when he was accidentally struck in the face by the whip of Craig Perret, aboard Halo Sunshine. The fraction of a second lost may have been the gelding's undoing. While Bailey strapped Grindstone lefthanded—"It was like he went into another gear," he says—the struggling Song faded deep in the stretch, and Cavonnier bounded away to daylight, looking like a winner until Grindstone came closing on the outside.
Most Derbys are settled by the eighth pole, but not this one. Grindstone closed to within a half a length, a neck, a head. A jump from the finish, they were nose and nose. They swept past the finish like a team in harness.
But the photo showed that Bailey had won his second Derby, three years after hustling Sea Hero to victory. Young, fulfilling a cherished dream, had won his first. And Lukas had written some history of his own. Now he bristled at those who criticized the way he plays the game, those who prefer an old-fashioned horseman to a driven businessman. "I don't know why I have to wake up every morning and defend myself in these situations," he says. "I'm trying to do a job. I do it with my style and my flair. I think I would be less of a person if I did it any other way. I can't be Ben Jones. I can't be Woody Stephens. I have to be me."
That, on Saturday, was quite enough.