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McNamara: Nothing quite like a day at the Derby

Kentucky Derby traditions

All-time Kentucky Derby winners

Classic race: 1987 Kentucky Derby

Without a doubt, it was the beginning of one of the most intense rivalries the sport has ever seen. On May 2, 1987, the 130,532 in attendance for the 113th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs witnessed perhaps the most dramatic Derby race of the century.

The finish
Alysheba overcomes a physical beating throughout as well as challenger Bet Twice to win the 1987 Derby.

Right out of the starting gate, the race took a physical pounding on the horses. The scene on the track was reminiscent of a battle field, as horses collided and blood spilled around the track.

At the start of the race, Cryptoclearance was bumped into the rail by neighboring horses, leaving a severe cut on his shoulder. The "survival of the fittest" theme was immediately established, as Cryptoclearance bled profusely throughout the entire race, but later recovered to finish fourth.

Demons Begone, the overpowering winner in his three races in Arkansas in '87, was pulled up by jockey Pat Day in the middle of the backstretch.

"He was bleeding so badly that every time he exhaled, some blood would fly out of his nostrils," recalls jockey Chris McCarron. "It was a substantial amount of blood, so when Pat Day felt him getting weak going down the backside, he knew something was amiss, so he had to pull him up.""

It wasn't all smooth sailing for Alysheba either.

"Alysheba got bumped from both sides right out of the gate and was really bothered, so we were set way back at 14th at the first call," says McCarron. "I was finally able to move him to the clear down the backstretch, and he got into the clear and moved into about third around the turn."

More turbulence lied ahead for Alysheba. As he mounted his charge to the lead with 3/16 of a mile left in the race, Alysheba was confronted with yet another violent encounter.

"Bet Twice ducked out in front of us right into my path," says McCarron. "Alysheba clipped his heels and stumbled pretty badly. But he was so athletic that he was able to recover his balance and surpass Bet Twice."

Alysheba overtook Bet Twice and glided home to a 3/4 of a length victory in one of the most physical battles in Derby history.

Prior to the Derby, Alysheba had won only once in his nine starts, and was sent off to Churchill Downs at odds of $8.40 to $1.

"While his record reflected that he'd had only one victory, Alysheba actually won the Blue Grass nine days prior to the Derby," recalls McCarron. "He'd beaten a pretty decent field of horses, but he was later disqualified from that race. So I certainly didn't expect for him to win the Derby, however, I did expect him to run a very credible race."

Despite his pre-race confidence in Alysheba, to this day, McCarron remains amazed at how strongly his horse responded to the race's adverse conditions.

"The amazing part of that race was that it was the first time that Alysheba had run a mile and a quarter," McCarron added. "The first time he had 126 pounds on his back, and to suffer that kind of interference at that point of the race -- he had already run a mile -- that's when the horses generally start to tire, so to recover the way he did and finish the race so strongly was really amazing.

Alysheba continued on to Pimlico, where he defeated a strong field to win the Preakness. Bet Twice later ended Alysheba's quest for the Triple Crown with a victory in the Belmont Stakes. Help | Advertiser Info | Contact Us | Tools | Site Map | Jobs at
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