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.
Day electrified the crowd of 85,122 at Pimlico by sending Louis Quatorze straight to the lead in the 1[3/16]th-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 roses."
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 lies some young jockey on the way up. This is Pat Day. He had won the last two Preaknesses for [Lukas]. For him!"