Eddie Arcaro shares the distinction, with Bill Hartack, of having ridden the most Kentucky Derby winners, five. Three of "The Master's " successes have come on Calumet Farm horses and four were trained by the legendary Ben Jones.
Calumet is back in the Derby picture Saturday, Looking for its ninth victory, with Alydar. But Arcaro can't afford to have a rooting interest. He will be the analyst for ABC, and he promises to say nothing unkind about Seattle Slew, last year's winner, or young Steve Cauthen, the rider of Affirmed.
"It sure will bring back memories for me, though seeing those red and blue silks out there," Arcaro admitted. "Those were the days. Calumet was so strong, with its Bill Lea breeding. The odd thing was, the first Derby I won (in 1938, on Lawrin), Bull Lea was among those we beat."
Ben Jones trained Lawrin for Woolford Farm. The brown colt held off Dauber by a length, at 8 to 1, Bull Lea finished eigth,in the field of 10 as the 5-to-2 second choice to Fighting Fox.
"Lawrin was a selling plater. He wasn't that much horse, really," Arcaro recalled. "But that was a good field he beat. Ben had him ready to run better than he knew how. Ben did that. He knew how to bring a horse up to a race so that, many times, he could beat horses that were better than his was. He was the best trainer of my time."
Two of Bull Lea's sons, Citation (1948) and Hill Gail (1952), collected the roses for Arcaro and Calumet at Churchill Downs. The jockey also won with Whirlaway for Calumet, in 1941, and on Fred Hooper's Hoop Jr. in 1945.
"Citation was the best 3-year-old I ever rode," Arcaro said. "He wasn't the same horse when he came back after the injury, a year later to try to become the first horse to earn $1,000,000.
"Wirlaway could be stubborn,and Hill Gail was erratic and hard to ride. In the Derby, he staggered home. He was about eight (lengths) in front, then hurt himself and never raced again."
Arcaro elected not to ride Pensive, the 1944 Derby winner, for Calumet. He was on the favored Stir Up, which finish third. In 1949, when Pensive's son, Ponder, won for Calumet, Arcaro was sixth after setting the pace with Olympia, the 4-to-5 favorite.
"I wasn't on Iron Liege, either, when he gave Calumet another Derby win in 1957," Arcaro said. "I wanted to ride Bold Ruler, and we were to ride Bold Ruler, and we were fourth. But when Tim Tam won Fox Calumet (1958). I wanted to ride him. The trouble was, I was committed to Jewel's Reward for Ivan Parke. Jewel's Reward for Ivan won the Wood Memorial, but Ivan and I knew his feet were bad, coming to the Derby. Then, when Hartack broke a leg, a few days before the Derby, the mount on Tim Ram was open.
"I tried to get off Jewel's Reward and on to Tim Tam," Arcaro recalled, "but Mrs. (Elizabth) Arden wouldn't let me off. Tim Tam would have won the Triple Crown, like Citation and Whirlaway did for me, if he hadn't injured himself during the Belmont Stakes."
Again Arcaro is back on the Derby scene. This is his second straight year for ABC, a good feat, consedering the networks change racing analysts about as often as Elizabeth Arden changed jackeys and trainers.
"This Derby's a treat, the best group of good-class horses, I'd guess, since 1957." Arcaro observed. "Fifty-seven was quite special - Iron Liege, Gallant Man, Round Table and Bold Ruler - With several other good ones in behind them. They were top sires, too.
"This field might be in that category, eventually. I don't think there's a half-length separating Affirmed and Alydar. The difference between them seems to be racing luck, and I'd have to think, in a field like the Derby, Affirmed is the more likely not to encounter bad luck. Alydar's a little more prone to get in trouble. He can be a little late leaving the gate."
Whoever wins, Arcaro is not likely to go overboard in his postrace commentary. The Seattle Slew Slander Squad still is trying to sue him for last year's Derby appraisal.
"Things were taken out of context, a little," Arcaro says. "What they were trying to get me to say, was that Seattle Slew was a great horse. He was undefeated. And he'd overcome problems to win.
"What I said and what I still think is true, is that just by winning the Kentucky Derby doesn't make a horse great, not until the Triple Crown is over. I now believe Seattle Slew has greatness, yes, but he should be asked to beat older horses, giving them weight. I think we tend to use the word 'great' too soon."
And Steve Cauthen's ability?
"The same thing applies" Arcaro said. "I said he was a great apprentice. What I also said is that he had a long way to go before he should be recognized as a great jockey in the Hall of Fame . . . It takes a period of time to make such judgments."