(Note: After reading this post, watch the actual 1974 race by clicking the link below!)
Inside the Cave –
I have been VERY fortunate to have had two wonderful experiences in my life regarding this Event; and can’t wait to watch this spectacular horse race every year.
My parents owned a few race horses in California during the 1970’s and 1980’s, and one of them, AGITATE was a “one in a million” purchase, a tremendous success in the California race circuit and then became one of the favorites for the –1974 KENTUCKY DERBY!
My father asked me if I wanted to go with them to the Derby for the race. Are you kidding, is this a trick question? Off I went with the rest of the family…
1) It was also the 100th running of the Kentucky Derby that year, and drew the largest crowd EVER to the event – 163,628!
2) Agitate had one of the most famous jockey’s in the world at that time riding him, Bill Shoemaker, and Agitate was a top three pick to win the race.
3) A record that still stands, 23 horses entered that Derby race, the largest Field EVER! It was about as exciting as it gets.
The day before the race, they announced the pole positions of the 23 horses for the Derby. The worst possible spot is # 1, right on the rail; and Agitate gets it. He now has 22 other horses ALL starting the race with better angles to head into the first turn with.
May 4, 1974 – Churchill Downs, the day of the race, and it was insane. 160,000+ people having a blast, tens of thousands of women in fancy “Derby Hats”, traditional Mint Julep drinks everywhere; having a horse in the race enabled us to enjoy special VIP seating, and both Paula and my father are excited as can be and trying not to have a heart attacks. The thrill of just being there with a top rated horse is almost enough, plus they’re extremely concerned about Agitate’s “pole position” (and have every right to be.)
The horse’s finally come out of the paddocks, everyone is singing “My Old Kentucky Home” (well, most of us..) they get the horses to the gate and in goes Agitate first, then he has to wait for 22 other horses to get loaded in…
THEY’RE OFF! screams the announcer, and almost immediately the inevitable happens, Agitate is boxed in and trapped against the rail and Bill Shoemaker has to start working his magic. He does. Slowly he starts to get his horse out from against the rail. This takes precious time and Agitate is now well off the lead and fighting to get out of the crowd of slower horses. It takes almost two-thirds of the race, but finally coming around the home stretch he’s FREE, and REALLY MOVING.
The crowd is going crazy, the lead horse Cannonade is looking good, but Agitate is really gaining ground fast now and quickly moves up and closer to the leader. And runs out of time. Agitate has gone from being trapped in the back of the pack all the way to 3rd place in a race the media annually and forever calls the “fastest two minutes in sports.” It was.
We’re all exhausted from screaming and yelling and the excitement of watching Agitate and Bill Shoemaker almost pull off the impossible.
It was a thrill never to be forgotten! I know I won’t!
You can watch the 1974 Kentucky Derby race too!
(Next post I’ll relate my other “Kentucky Derby” experience in 1998!)