No jockey has won the Kentucky Derby while drinking a vanilla Milkshake. So wunderkind Steve Cauthen has no chance.In picking today's winner, we also can eliminate Esops Foibles, a bad speller, and Dr. Valeri, who won't make house calls. Alydar carries too heavy a load of romance, with all that Calumet is Back drama, and Sensitive Prince, poor thing, was bred in Maryland, an event so traumatic only one horse ever transcended it to win the Derby. The Derby is 104 years old.
Dogged research such as this leads to the inescapable conclusion that Chief Of Dixieland is the class of the field. Previous studies said Dixieland had four legs, all of relatively the same length, but ran as if in snowshoes. Forget that slander. How can a horse lose when his trainer is named Jake the Rake?
Jake Morreale is a dark and handsome man from Bay St. Louis, Miss., 38 years old, quick to smile. They called him Jake the Rake when he cashed a big bet at New Orleans. "Master Pack paid $144 to win, and the exacta was $800," Morreale said. Those big numbers are dear to the heart of every plunger, but time passes and now Morreale, wants to rake in one thing only: the Derby.
The thought of Chief Of Dixieland winning the Kentucky Derby will move hardboots to giggling attacks. Majestic pieces of nature's work, Alydar and Affirmed stand out from nine pretenders. They've met in six races, all last year, with Affirmed winning four times but in races so close that after 5 1/3 miles of running he is less than one length in front. Should both lose today, any less noble steed might win.
So Morreale is taking his best shot. Chief Of Dixieland didn't race as a 2-year-old, being "a big, clumsy kid," the Rake said. This year, he's won twice in seven races, but never in a stakes, and Morreale comes into the Derby dreaming.
Dixieland's best race was the Arkansas Derby a month ago when he finished with a rush, losing by only a neck to Esops Foibles. His pet's run through the stretch convinced Morreale it would be foolish to pass up the Derby, where the 3-year-olds will go 1 1/4 miles the first time. Maybe Alydar will lie down on the couch to rest, and maybe Affirmed will stop for lunch. Then Chief Of Dixieland, plugging along, can win fame and everlasting glory.
"People keep asking me if I'm getting nervous," Morreale said. "I say no . . . but for breakfast today, I had a plate of alfalfa and a quart of oats."
Trainers often come up lame Derby Week. One man blamed his favourite's defeat on the brass band that plays "My Old Kentucky Home." Another hid behind his horse when newspapermen came around. A man from Nevada once brought a horse that, on breaking out of the starting gate in a workout, made a U-turn and ran around the gate.
Perhaps Jake the Rake had these colleagues in mind when he said, "Some people think I'm some kind of idiot to be here."
Er, uh, well . . . yeah.
Morreale smiled. "But horses are athletes, and there comes a time in every athlete's career when he should be tested. Chief of Dixieland's time has come and anything can happen. They thought the match-makers were crazy with Spinks and Ali, didn't they?"
Besides, Morreale said, he has no help.
"Down in Bay St. Louis, my father is praying and my mother is making novenas."
This ought to be a classic Derby. The cast of characters is remarkable. A multimillionaire owner, Louis Wolfson, said he would spend $7.5 million on a horse that could win the Derby. He has Affirmed. The Alydar story is the stuff of epic drama: a once great stable, Calumet, having fallen on bad times, with the owners crippled octogenarians, has a last hurrah.
Cauthen, the Kentuckian who was born during Derby Weet 18 years ago, won $6 million in purses last year but skipped the Derby for lack of a good horse. Now he's on Affirmed, whose trainer, Las Barrera, won the Derby two years ago. Sensitive Prince is trained by ALlen Jerkens, the best there is, a veteran of three decades who hasn't won here.
Big guns, all. Big bucks. And against them comes the likes of Chief of Dixieland, the product of undistinguished parents, trained by Jake the Rake, who until seven years ago was a high school coach in Morgan City, La.
"The greatest part of racing," Morreale said, dealing with his anonymity in this Derbe, "is that anything can happen. Think of Carry Back a good horse. His breeding was poor. But he won the Derby and showed it could be done by ordinary people. It it weren't that way, only multimillionaires would win."
In partnership with three men, Morreale bought Chief Of Dixieland for $13,000 at a yearling sale in Kentucky two years ago. Remember, please, we are speaking of thoroughbreds here, not Rolls Royce, and $15,000 is what you pay for a thoroughout largely unloved by knowledgeable racing people.
Morreale's partners figured the game was easy.
"They gave me $20,000 and thought I could buy a whole herd of horses for it," the Rake said. "One man told me he'd just bought a horse for his kids and it only cost $35."
From childhood on his grandfather's farm, where he worked with plowhorses, Jake Morreale has loved the animals. He bred thoroughbreds while coaching, but became a trainer only out of desperation. When he couldn't sell the horses at what he thought was a fair price, he took them racing.
Seven years later, Chief Of Dixieland is Morreale's best, having earned $42,890 this year. Jake is grateful to the erstwhile clumsy kid. "My dad is real, real sick and he thought he'd never see me with a Derby horse," Morreale said. "I'm dedicating all my efforts to him."
May Dixieland fly today.