For the second year in a row and to the surprise of almost no one, a horse trained by California-based Bob Baffert won the Kentucky Derby on Saturday at Churchill Downs in Louisville.
What was a surprise, however - and a surprise, evidently, even to the trainer himself - was that the horse he won with was Real Quiet, until the stretch run at the Derby on Saturday, the perceived also-ran of his championship stable at Churchill.
Though both his Derby entrants, Indian Charlie and Real Quiet had been spectacular in the last start, finishing first and second in the Santa Anita Derby in early April, it was the former horse that arrived at the post at 5:32 p.m. on Saturday that bore the burden of being the Kentucky Derby favorite.
Considered a deserving contender given his perfect race record, he was four-four-four going into Saturday, Indian Charlie nevertheless walked onto the track carrying not just a 126-pound jockey but also the weight of some 80 years of racing history.
Consider, for instance that the last horse to win the Derby off only four career starts was Exterminator who did it in 1918.
Then too, there was the fact that the favorite has for than a dozen years had a difficult time finishing ahead of the pack in the Derby.
Still, on the Friday before the Derby, trainer Baffert was telling anyone who asked that he believed he had two fine horses in his stable, "but the better, right now, is probably Indian Charlie."
It was a point of view that quickly evaporated Saturday, after the bay colt blew past his much-discussed stablemate to take the lead with a quarter-mile remaining and then held off a last minute surge by Victory Gallop.
"Go, Baby, Go," Baffert shouted in the grandstand as Real Quiet took the lead.
"Go, Baby, Go," shouted the 28-year-old jockey Kent Desormeaux astride the horse.
(That chant no doubt delighted the board of directors of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association who adopted it as their slogan earlier this year.)
Seconds after Real Quiet secured the win in a moderate two minutes and two and one-fifth seconds, Desormeaux, who had won his first derby after six previous attempts was still shouting.
"Whooooooooooooooooooa," he said, punching his fist into the air.
"There's nothing like this in the world. Hat's off to you, Kentucky!"
The win, coupled with the third place finish by Indian Charlie before a crowd of 143,215 made for a landmark day for Baffert, who won the Derby last year with Silver Charm (narrowly missing winning the Triple Crown when the Charm was beaten by a nose by Touch Gold) and almost winning the Derby two years ago with Cavonnier.
"All week long I've been telling my wife, 'It seems hard for me to get up for this race,'" he said at a press conference afterwards. "I've been here three years in a row. It's like old hat and everything is running smooth, and I don't think I'll ever feel the excitement I did with Silver Charm.
"But when those horses were turning home, my guts were killing me just from the pain of screaming, trying to get those horses there. I thought I'd never feel it again. But this race is unbelievable. I've got to come back here for sure next year."
Not only did Baffert become one of only six trainers to win back-to-back Derbies but his performance in his first three years _ two victories and a loss by a nose to Grindstone in 1996 - is matched only by one trainer in all Derby history - Hall of Famer Jimmy Jones.
On the Monday after the race, Baffert said that both Real Quiet and Indian Charlie are likely to contest the Preakness on May 16 in Baltimore, but will remain at Churchill Downs as long as possible to continue training.
Victory Gallop, however, whose last-minutesheroics secured a second place finish, will likely pass up the Preakness and await the Belmont Stakes.
Halory Hunter and Cape Town, trained by Garden City residents Nick Zito and D. Wayne Lukas, respectively, will also likely run in this year's Preakness Stakes.