Like any other 85-to-1 shot streaking into the first turn ahead of a 2-to-5 favorite, Croeso was having his brief moment of glory today. Or so it seemed. What really happened in the Florida Derby today was that Croeso stayed in front all the way and won.
There was nothing freakish about it, except the price he paid, $172, the second-biggest in the 32-year history of the race. The 13-horse event was strictly a race between Copelan, the people's choice who was supposed to have the $250,000 affair at his mercy, and the horse who beat him with a stretch drive.
At almost every point in the race, when they were running one-two, it seemed that Laffit Pincay would take Copelan to the front. It never happened.
Croese wasn't even supposed to be in the race, originally. His owners, the Cardiff Stud Farm and Roy Fowler, shipped him in from California and paid a $5,000 supplemental fee to take what appeared to be an absurd shot at Copelan, winner of so many fashionable stakes races. They collected the winner's share of $150,000.
The 33,189 philanthropic souls--the most ever to watch the Florida Derby--who bet $4,568,618 witnessed a beaut of an upset brought off by Croeso and his rider, Frank Olivares. In previous races it had seemed that the gelding didn't care much for distances over a mile, but today he liked it so much that at the end he had a length and a quarter advantage over the frustrated Copelan and his frustrated rider. In third place, beaten by five lengths, the 17-to-1 Law Talk.
"Frank was able to slow the pace down enough so that when he needed the horse when Copelan challenged him, he had enough horse left," said Steve DiMauro, who saddled the winner while his regular trainer, Jerry Fanning, stayed in California. "He just killed Copelan."
What happened changed the whole Kentucky Derby picture because Croeso, which means "Welcome" in Welsh, is nominated for all the Triple Crown races. And he isn't even the no-name horse in his own barn, a designation claimed by another 3-year-old, Desert Winex, racing in California.
Today, it appeared that Lafitt might have goofed by letting Olivares control a slow pace of 48.1 for the quarter and 1:11.3 for the first six furlongs. No one in the field was going after Croeso, and Olivares was content to gallop along.
Croeso came flying out of the starting gate from the outside post position and brazenly collared Copelan, a speedball in his own right, before they reached the turn, with Olivares moving to the rail and keeping the favorite on the outside during the early running.
Rounding the far turn, Pincay was beginning to make his move. As they straightened out, a quarter mile from home, they were nose and nose.
But from there it was Croeso's race. The slow early pace had given Croeso reserve and in the final run he could be helped by exquisite blood lines of his own. He was by Super Concorde, a 2-year-old champion of France, and his grandsire was Bold Reasoning, the same breeding as Seattle Slew. Croeso wasn't giving way to anything.
They came down to the finish from an eighth of a mile out with both riders whipping. Pincay laid it to Copelan nine times, from both sides, and Olivares, on the rail, was hitting Croeso just as smartly. The one that responded best this day was the 85-to-1 shot, a genuine winner.
Pincay said, "My horse seemed to tire a bit." Croeso didn't in a 1:49.4 mile and eighth that was three seconds slower than the record.
There was some mix-up in the description of Croeso. The program listed him as a gelding, but the Racing Form once had him as a colt. One of his owners, Jerry Fowler, explained, "Croeso is a gelding, unfortunately." Meaning, unfortunately, he would not be able to pass on his blood lines.
But he has a chance to be great.