Thursday, February 16, 2012


One of the greatest finishes in Kentucky Derby history (pictured) actually was the finish for the career of one of the participants. In 1996, it appeared that trainer Bob Baffert was on his way to his first Kentucky Derby win with Cavonnier. Cavonnier had been the hot horse all week long leading up to the Derby off his victory in the Santa Anita Derby about a month earlier. As the field for the Derby moved through the stretch, Cavonnier had control of the race and led the field of nineteen into the final stages and was apparently on a procession to the Roses.

Cavonnier had put the favorite, Unbridled's Song (who had an unfortunate post draw of nineteen in the field of nineteen and was also dealing with a quarter crack), away in midstretch and Chris McCarron had his third Derby win in his grasp. However, rallying from way off the pace was the D. Wayne Lukas-trained Grindstone. Grindstone had the riding services of Jerry Bailey that day. For my money, Jerry Bailey was the best big race rider of all-time. He had won the Derby three years previous with Sea Hero for Paul Mellon and trainer Mack Miller. Now, he was in the silks of Overbrook Farm, as was Gary Stevens, riding Grindstone's entrymate, Editor's Note. Grindstone had negotiated his way through the big field and was in position to steal it in the final strides. Grindstone gained on Cavonnier with every stride and right at the wire, the two horses were so close together it would take a photo finish to settle it.

Hard as it may be to believe in that cacophony of noise that Churchill Downs can become during a thrilling finish, Bailey and McCarron asked each other if the other one won. Neither knew, of course, but when the numbers were finally posted on the tote board, Grindstone's #4 was posted first and Cavonnier's #3 was second. The incredible effort had taken everything out of the winner, unfortunately. Grindstone was retired within a week of winning the Derby with chips in his knee. Cavonnier did continue on the Kentucky Derby trail, finishing fourth in the Preakness (behind Louis Quatorze, who had run 16th in Louisville) and 14th in the Belmont Stakes (behind Grindstone's Derby entrymate, Editor's Note). Bob Baffert, of course, would go on to win the Derby in 1997 with Silver Charm, 1998 with Real Quiet, and 2002 with War Emblem.

It is interesting to note that Grindstone continues to be a major player in the Thoroughbred industry. He is the Sire of Birdstone, who won the 2004 Belmont Stakes and spoiled the Triple Crown bid of Smarty Jones. Birdstone is, of course, the Sire of 2009 Kentucky Derby winner, Mine That Bird, and 2009 Belmont Stakes winner, Summer Bird. The Grindstone lineage that was so important to protect following that Derby win has come through time and time again to be a factor in the classic races of recent vintage.

Here is the link to watch the 1996 Kentucky Derby win of Grindstone: Tune in again tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

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