The result of the 104th Kentucky Derby had barely been affirmed with Eddie Maple and Jorge Velasquez were holding a post-mortem in the jockeys' shower room.
"Well, you beat me again," the rider of Believe It said to the rider of Alydar.
"Yeah," the rider of the favorite responded, "And he beat me again."
Maple and Believe It finished third, a length and a quarter behind Velasquez and Alydar. But "he," Steve Cauthen, had affirmed 1 1/2 lengths ahead of the Calumet colt at the end of a mile and a quarter run in 2:01-1/5th.
Maple now has finished behind Velasquez three times this season, although the margin keeps getting smaller. Velasquez and Alydar lost the 2-year-old championship to Cauthen and Affirmed in the Laurel Futurity last fall, and the Harbor View colt took a big lead in the race for 3-year-old honors Saturday at Churchill Downs by posting an authoriative victory in the first of the Triple Crown events.
"Could he have run a better race?" a reporter asked Cauthen.
"Whaddya want?" the 18-year-old jockey replied, quite appropriately.
There was nothing to fault. Trainer Laz Barrera had promised the skeptics that Louis Wofson's runner would be ready for the 10 furlongs, and he was.
"Why he no be favoured?" the Cuban-born conditioner asked repeatedly in the days before the Derby. "It is like it was last year. Nothing has changed."
Nothing had. Cauthen rated Affirmed perfectly, displaying command of the situation every step of the way, and the response he expected was there, at the head of the stretch, when the young man from Walton, Ky., asked his horse to pull away from Believe It and open, a daylight lead on Alydar.
"Yeah, I was looking over my shoulder once or twice, looking for ALydar," Cauthen admitted. "we were waiting for him. When my horse was out there alone he started pricking his ears, playing, like he always does. That's when I hit him, just to keep him on his business. He had this habit, waiting for competition. That's why he didn't win the Hollywood Derby by more . . . He wanted more competition."
Cauthen saw five Derbies before becoming a professional race rider, but there had never been a seat to match the one he enjoyed Saturday. Had he been excited during the Derby buildup?
"Steve was himself," Tex Cauthen remarked. "He slept good, and he complained when I woke him up. That's about as normal as things can get."
The entire Cauthen clan was on hand for the young jockey's biggest. His mother Myra watched the race with Steve's brothers Doug, 15, and Cary, 9.
"I don't get nervous too easily, but this was thrilling. IT was tremendous, my biggest thrill," the jockey declared. "But to be honest, the race was run almost exactly like we had expected. I figured those two horses (Raymond Earl and Sensitive Prince) would go for the lead, and I figured they'd stop."
What didn't figure was the ease with which Affirmed went to the lead on the stretch turn. Maple was driving on Believe It while Cauthen was relaxed on Affirmed. "I hadn't ask him to run at the point," Cauthen observed. "I didn't ask him for anything until we were straightened away."
The Daily Racing Form's chart shows Believe It ahead in front of Affirmed at the top of the stretch, leaving the quarter-mile pole. Cauthen disagrees. "I don't think he ever really got ahead of me," he said.
At the wire Affirmed was comfortably in front of Alydar. The margin is given as 1 1/2 lengths but it does not begin to reflect the superiority Affirmed enjoyed over his arch rival. There is a reserve to Affirmed that the Calumet colt never came closer to threatening on Saturday.
While the Derby shaped up as having the ideal structure for Alydar's stretch kick, the Preakness already gives signs of being made for Affirmed. The field should be small. Both colts are going to New York for week before shipping to Baltimore for the Preakness on May 20. Believe It also will try the Preakness, as many Derby Creek Road and Sensitive Prince.
"We've got to find a horse that can make Affirmed run fast." Barrera teased, supporting Cauthen's comment that the Derby winner runs only as fast as he has to in order to win.
Well, there was nothing shoddy about 2:01 1/5th. The only disappointment was that Alydar could not make the final yards more exciting. All of the runners had performed to the advanced script, up to then.
Alydar can do better. So can Affirmed. Whether Alydar's best effort will be good enough to stop Affirmed's bid for a Triple Crown is doubtful.
An exceptional colt beat two quality rivals in the 104th Derby. There is every reason to believe the result was a true bill. Velasquez and Maple may again be taking their showers before Cauthen after the Preakness and the Belmont.