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May 15, 1961
Making up 13 lengths in the stretch, Carry Back (10)—the horse with "no breeding"—overtakes Crozier 40 yards from the wire (below).
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May 15, 1961

Carry Back In Front

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Making up 13 lengths in the stretch, Carry Back (10)—the horse with "no breeding"—overtakes Crozier 40 yards from the wire (below).


For days before last week's 87th running of the Kentucky Derby, Jack Price, the co-owner and trainer of favored Carry Back, had managed to make himself about as popular with Louisville boosters as a patch of poison ivy on a nursery school playground. Reprising a theme song which seems to have a Jack Price copyright and one which he has sung for seven months now in New Jersey, Florida and New York, Price consigned racing tradition to the birds. Money, he insisted to hundreds of inquiring visitors at Churchill Downs' Barn 42, was the sole objective of his trip south from Aqueduct. Carry Back, he pointed out, already had won $492,368, and Carry Back, he was certain, was about to win him another $120,500.

"Sure, I'll be happy to keep the cup they give away," he said, "and I don't mind the prestige of being on the winners' list. But to me this is just the seventh race on Saturday, May 6."

Kentuckians couldn't have been more horrified if Price had told them that their bonded bourbon was only 60 proof. But the amazing thing about Derby Week in Louisville was that absolutely everything Jack Price had to say about Carry Back and the field of 14 who opposed him last Saturday was precisely on target.

Price showed up in the press box to watch the one-mile Derby Trial five days before the big race. After seeing his archrival, Crozier, set a track record of 1:34-3/5 while beating California's speedy Four-and-Twenty, Price roamed among the typewriters and gave anybody interested in listening his own expert opinion. Looking squarely at the reporters, including many from the West Coast and Canada who were there to record the feats of Four-and-Twenty and his Alberta Ranches stablemate, Flutterby, Price announced, "I've thought all along our eastern 3-year-olds could beat those California horses. Now, Crozier's win makes Carry Back look better than ever, and as far as I'm concerned the Derby is between Carry Back and Crozier."

Of course, not everybody believed him, and by Saturday night the disbelievers had a big case of the regrets. For exactly as Price had said it would be, the 87th Derby was ultimately resolved between those two. The stretch run, in which Carry Back made up 13 lengths in a quarter of a mile to beat Crozier, will be remembered as one of the great finishes of this classic—even in a race where drama at the wire is the rule rather than the exception.

This was a tremendous race despite the unusual fact that virtually every soul in the creaking old joint knew exactly what the strategy would be and exactly which horses would dictate it. Globemaster, winner of the Wood Memorial, Crozier and Four-and-Twenty were the speed. Barring a horrendous traffic jam at the start, they could be counted upon to fly out of the gate and have at each other for as long as each could last. Carry Back, Flutterby, Dr. Miller and Bass Clef would be way back awaiting the collapse up front and the precise moment to move. Somewhere in the middle Sherluck and Ambiopoise would be waiting to make a somewhat shorter move of their own, once the leaders showed the first signs of weariness.

At his barn the morning before the race, Price dug out a file in which he had all of Carry Back's racing charts together with his own penned impressions. "Now, in the Wood Memorial," he noted, "we were 12 or 13 lengths off the pace on the backstretch. Too far out of it, and not enough time to make it up. The Flamingo was ideal. We were never more than five or six lengths off the pace. We'll pattern the Derby strategy after the Flamingo, although I wouldn't mind being as many as 12 lengths behind here. The distance is greater, and the leaders will probably come back to us faster after trying to carry their speed a mile and an eighth."

At the start, sure enough, there went Globemaster, with Four-and-Twenty right after him and Crozier third. The Wood winner took only 23 4/5 seconds to cover the first quarter of a mile, and even Johnny Longden on Four-and-Twenty was surprised. "I didn't think there was a horse around that could outrun us for the first quarter," he said later. Up the backstretch, while Globe-master was still rolling along on the lead, his two closest pursuers stuck together. The rest of the field seemed to be having a pleasant little race of their own some six lengths behind. Carry Back had been 11th going by the stands the first time, about 13 lengths behind Globe-master. After going half a mile he was still 11th, but now Jockey John Sellers had him a frightening 16 lengths away from the front end.

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