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A gang of 15 horses answered the call to the post, and the fans sent Frisky off as the tepid 9-5 favorite, with Squall the second choice at 2-1. Unbridled was fifth at 11-1. If it was pace they wanted in this Kentucky Derby, Nafzger and Perret could not have dreamed a finer beginning. On a track listed merely as "good," Perret let Unbridled drop back to 11th at the start and gallop casually along to the first turn while the front-runners, with Mister Frisky only a length behind, southern-fried themselves through an opening quarter in :22[3/5] and a half mile in :46. Jockey Gary Stevens, riding Frisky, did not hear the sound of sizzling and therefore was not alarmed: "My colt was very comfortable," he said later. "He was going easy down the backside."
Turning into the backstretch, Summer Squall was nine lengths back, nicely positioned behind the heat, while Perret had Unbridled in 12th place, almost 14 lengths behind the leaders. Down the backstretch, without urging, Unbridled began passing horses, moving to 11th, then 10th, then ninth. Up in the box seats, Nafzger leaned over and cried:
"Mrs. Center, we are now eighth!...The horse is waiting on Craig and he is in good position...."
They raced like the Seventh Cavalry into the far turn. Frisky was cheek by jowl with Real Cash, a speedball, and they swept past the six-furlong mark in 1:11 flat, still a sprinting pace, and it was there Stevens felt Frisky kick into another gear and surge forward. The chestnut looked like a Derby winner. "He accelerated real easy," said Stevens. "He pulled me to the lead and I thought the race was ours."
But the race had only just begun. Squall moved closer to the pacesetters down the backstretch, while a few lengths behind, events were breaking beautifully for Perret. As they neared the turn, Land Rush suddenly bobbled in front of Unbridled, drifting to the right and opening a hole. Perret, seeing his chance, sent Unbridled through it: "When that door opened, I said, 'Now's the time!' He had dead aim." Through his binoculars, Nafzger saw Unbridled begin to run, and he shouted to his owner:
"He's making a nice move, Mrs. Genter. He's now up to fifth!"
Mister Frisky swept around the bend, leading the charge past the three-eighths pole, and here was the moment that everyone had been waiting for. Summer Squall was moving to Mister Frisky. Behind Squall, Perret was in the ideal spot to pounce on both. After getting through that hole, Perret had seen Squall in front of him and had angled Unbridled right behind him. "I didn't want to get behind horses that were stopping," said Perret. "I wanted to get behind a horse who would be finishing. When I found Summer Squall, I said, 'Here's my shot!' "
Perret chirped to Unbridled and the colt took off. Frisky was already getting late—he ran the fourth quarter in :27, buggy-horse time—when Stevens asked him for what he had. There wasn't much. "He gave me a response for five or six strides and he was just done," Stevens said. "It just wasn't there."
"He's third, Mrs. Genter! He's up there!"
As the horses bounded toward the quarter pole, Summer Squall snatched the lead. Turning for home, all Day had in front of him was the wide, flat expanse of the homestretch. He had ridden seven Derby horses in the last nine years but had never won. The closest he had come was second place in the last two, failing by a neck to catch Winning Colors with Forty Niner in '88, and last year falling 2½ lengths short of Sunday Silence on Easy Goer. Now he was dashing for the quarter pole and waiting to ask Squall for one final run. "I wouldn't have traded places with anybody," Day said.