The son of the late Alydar, a jockey with a history of drug problems and a trainer everyone second-guessed combined Saturday to win the 117th Kentucky Derby.
Strike the Gold, a colt whose pedigree dictated he could not win the Derby, circled the field on the home turn to capture the $905,800 first leg of thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown."I bet this horse in January - that's how confident I was," Strike the Gold trainer Nick Zito said. "He's a terrific animal. He looks like his father and look what his father was."
Best Pal, trying to become the first gelded Derby winner in 62 years, fought his way through traffic to finish second, 1 3/4 lengths back. Mane Minister, an 80-1 shot, was another 1 3/4 lengths behind. Green Alligator, dismissed with the other field entries, was fourth.
Strike the Gold, a Kentucky bred, shattered the controversial Dosage System, a pedigree-based analysis used to predict which horses cannot win the 1 1/4-mile Derby. The system, developed in 1981, has been used to profile Derby winners going back to 1929.
Debunkers felt Strike the Gold was the perfect candidate to blow a hole in the theory because of the late Alydar. Alydar, who finished runner-up to Affirmed in all three Triple Crown races in 1978, had sired a Derby winner in Alysheba in 1987.
However, he had not produced enough classic distance winners. On the other side, Majestic Gold supposedly passed on too much sprinting speed for Strike the Gold to last 1 1/4 miles.
Ironically, on Nov. 15, Strike the Gold scored his first victory, a maiden race at Aqueduct, the same day Alydar died.
Zito was besieged all week about questions of pedigree. Doubts were also raised about the colt's dismal workout Wednesday. Zito, a 43-year-old New Yorker, pointed to the five-eighths mile workout two Fridays before the Derby.
"If they had watched that work, they would have bet the ranch on me, " Zito said. "He ran the last quarter that day in :22 flat. I can't lie. God is looking at me."
Saturday, on a muggy afternoon with some 130,000 watching at Churchill Downs, Zito turned his eyes to the heavens as the field thundered down the stretch.
"Show me the way," he beckoned.
Chris Antley, Strike the Gold's jockey, also did his part. Antley, twice sidelined by a cocaine problem, had been criticized for showing up late for the colt's final workout.
"It's gratifying to win the Derby no matter what," said Antley, irritated over questions concerning his pre-race conduct. "I'm walking on air right now."
Antley made a perfectly timed move to bring Strike the Gold from 10th place over the last half mile on a fast track that had been favoring front-runners all day.
"Chris Antley is a young Angel Cordero, no offense to Angel," Zito said, referring to the Hall of Famer, who finished sixth aboard Quintana.
Strike the Gold, who began showing Derby potential with a late surge to second place in the March 16 Florida Derby, covered the course in a workmanlike 2:03. The heavy humidity probably contributed to the mediocre time.
Hansel, the favorite coming off victories in the Jim Beam and Lexington stakes, finished 10th. Fly So Free, the 1990 2-year-old colt champion and 3-1 second choice, was fifth.
Strike the Gold paid $11.60, $6.20 and $5.40 as the 9-2 third choice in the race, which produced a record Derby purse of $905,800. Best Pal, the 5-1 fourth choice, returned $6.40 and $5.40. Mane Minister paid $25. 60.
Strike the Gold collected $655,800 for owners B. Giles Brophy and his partners and golfing buddies William Condren and Joseph Cornacchia. Last year Brophy came to Louisville for his first Derby with Wood Memorial winner Thirty Six Red, who contended early but finished ninth.
"This is one heck of a day for the three of us," Brophy said. "I've had a lot of good things happen to me, but with Stike the Gold and Thirty Six Red and winning the Derby I can't even explain to you."
Strike the Gold becomes the third member of the 3-year-old colt division to reach millionaire status with $1,034,610.