On Thursday, the Breeders' Cup Legends Tour, featuring Hall of Fame jockeys Pat Day, Laffit Pincay Jr., and Jorge Velasquez (who filled in for Angel Cordero Jr.), made their way to Keeneland. If you were unaware, the jockeys are in the midst of multi-city tour to promote the Breeders' Cup, which celebrates its 25th anniversary at Santa Anita Park later this month.
At each racetrack, the jockeys get a chance to interact with fans, sign autographs and reflect on their most memorable Breeders' Cup moments. On Oct. 18, Day, Cordero and six others Hall of Famers will ride in the Living Legends race at Santa Anita.
I was at Keeneland on Thursday during a picturesque afternoon. The line was consistently more than 100 deep for the hour-long autograph session, which told me fans really enjoyed the event. I did as well. It is really a nice promotion that the Breeders' Cup put together.
Day is one of my all-time favorite jockeys and I took advantage of the opportunity to sit down for a few moments with the legend. Day still ranks first on the all-time list with nearly $298 million in earnings and has more wins than anyone at Churchill and Keeneland. He has the second most Breeders' Cup victories with 12 (including four Classics) and is still the top BC earner, with more than $21 million. "Patient Pat" is the only jockey to ride in the first 21 World Championships.
It was quite an honor to get a few moments with Day, who I consider one of the top five jockeys of all-time. Although he'll turn 58 next week, he still looks like he could ride at a top level. He is also as gracious and humble a star as you would ever like to meet.
JS: This tour you're are on must be fun and grueling at the same time. It's a lot of travel but the fans seem to be coming out to support you. Are you enjoying it?
PD: Last week we were worn out pretty good. We were in five cities in five days. But this has been a very nice promotion. We're very pleased with the turnout at each venue. We're thrilled that Breeders' Cup asked us to be part of it and use us to help promote number 25. The fans seem to have really enjoyed it too.
JS: You have 22 riding titles at Keeneland. This place must always be fun to come back to?
PD: It is. I have great memories here. I still make my home in Louisville so I try to get out here as much as I can.
JS: In 1984 you rode Wild Again to a tremendous victory in the first BC Classic, where you narrowly defeated Laffit (Gate Dancer) and Angel (Slew O' Gold). What do you remember most about that race?
PD: I can recall that race jump for jump. It is still vivid in my memory. I've never been on a horse who ran any harder the last quarter of a mile than he did. He trained well up to the race, but honestly, I thought he was overmatched. There were some great horses in that race - Gate Dancer, Slew O' Gold, Desert Wine, Precisionist - you know, realistically, we were the fifth or sixth best in there. We were expecting a good effort, but we were all surprised with the victory.
JS: You've had 12 Breeders' Cup wins and four Classics, which one is your most memorable and thrilling?
PD: The Classic with Wild Again would have to be. It was the first one and it was the biggest race in the world at the time. The way the race came down was exciting and all things considered it is the highlight of my Breeders' Cup career.
JS: How about your biggest disappointment?
PD: I would say Easy Goer against Sunday Silence in the 1989 Classic. I've always felt he was the better of the two horses. He had more ability. At the very least I felt their record should be 2-2. I'll take blame for the loss in the Preakness. I don't think I rode the best race of my career that day. But I don't think I could be held responsible for the Derby or the Classic. It was just one of those things.
JS: There is a lot of talk about the Breeders' Cup being on a synthetic surface for the first time this year. How do you feel about that?
PD: We'll, I've never been on it. I can only go by what I see and hear. But the bulk of what I hear is good. The catastrophic breakdowns are lower, it seems, and ultimately the horses are our top priority. If it keeps horses and riders safer the game will be better off in the long run.
JS: Going back to Santa Anita for one last race must be thrilling for you.
PD: It is. I was a little late getting back into shape and I had to wake the legs up a little bit, but I'm ready to go now. It should be fun. Santa Anita is a beautiful place and they always do a wonderful job of hosting. It has a great backdrop and people love going there. I'm looking forward to the whole week.
Photo credit: Hannah Goodman