LOUISVILLE – For a horseplayer, only the Breeders’ Cup can match the temptation of Derby weekend’s wagering menu. Many of the country’s best horses converge at Churchill Downs seeking six-figure payoffs and major prestige.
“These two days of racing, it’s the biggest stage in the country,” trainer Bob Baffert said. “So when you can win when everybody is watching, it makes it better.”
Millions were watching Saturday and betting big. Megabucks were up for grabs on Derby Day’s all-stakes pick 6, and when Always Dreaming won the Derby, one lucky bettor walked away with $857,335.40.
Roca Rojo and rider Florent Geroux started the sequence by making the chalk players sweat before edging Believe in Bertie by a head in the Grade II, $300,000 Churchill Downs Turf Mile. He paid $4.60 and gave trainer Chad Brown a second consecutive win. His 5-year-old mare Paulassilverlining ($7.60) won the Grade I Humana Distaff under Mike Smith the race before.
Wild Shot ($19.40) and jockey Corey Lanerie ruined many Pick 6 tickets by dominating the Grade III, $250,000 Pat Day Mile for 3-year-olds by four lengths on a muddy track. It was only the second win in eight career starts for the Rusty Arnold-trained son of Trappe Shot.
Arklow shredded more tickets when he paid $32 in the Grade II, $300,000 American Turf Stakes for 3-year-olds. The Brad Cox-trained colt rallied under Smith to win by a length over Good Samaritan. Oscar Performance, the 5-2 favorite, came in last after setting the pace.
It was bombs away again in the Grade II, $500,000 Churchill Downs Stakes, as Limousine Liberal ($28.40) won for the first time in five tries at 7 furlongs and in his debut on a muddy track. By holding on by a head he also ended a seven-race losing streak. Ben Colebrook trains the winner, whom Jose Ortiz rode.
Heard in the press box: “I couldn’t have bet on Limousine Liberal with counterfeit money.”
There are horses for courses, but not many horses for specific days, and Divisidero is both. For the third consecutive year, the 5-year-old son of Kitten’s Joy rallied to take a grass stakes on Derby Day. Divisidero surged late under Julian Leparoux to repeat in the Grade I, $1-million Woodford Reserve Turf Classic. He had lost four in a row since last year’s edition.
Divisidero ($9) improved to 3-for-3 on Churchill’s grass for trainer Buff Bradley after going 1 1/8 miles on a good course in 1:52.42. Understatement of the weekend from Bradley: “Derby Day has really been good to us.”
Celebs galore. Among the celebrities making the scene were Rick Pitino, Larry David, Jeff Bridges, Beau Bridges, Bobby Flay, Harry Connick Jr., Jerry Rice, Warren Moon, Jason Witten, Ricky Fowler, Katie Couric, Paul Sorvino, Travis Tritt and Taylor Dane.