By Nick Costa and Mary Dixon Reynolds
Secretariat fever must have lingered in everyone’s consciousness as a record crowd of 163,628 gathered at Churchill Downs in hopes of seeing another dazzling performance. Almost 10,000 fans stood at the gates at 5 am to obtain a good spot in order to witness the 100th running of the Kentucky Derby.
Before the race began, there was a different show in the standing room only end field. Minutes before the race, the National Guard had to come in and control the crowd. Streaking, a fad which was comprised of disrobing completely and running until getting stopped by a policeman, had become popular. One man in the infield climbed up the flagpole then completely disrobed.
Unfortunately, these 3-year-olds were a less than stellar crop. There would be a record number of 23 horses in the field, substituting quality for quantity. The headline in the afternoon’s edition of the Louisville Times was, ”Derby Outlook: Fast Track, Sort of Slow Horses.” But this did not dim the excitement of the crowd.
The record 23 horse field included Set n’ Go and Lexico, two horses from Venezuela and Sir Tristram from France. The Venezuelan horses had had little success, running primarily in Venezuela and Sir Tristram had shipped early and finished seventh in an allowance race at Churchill Downs, won by Woody Stephen’s trainee and Derby candidate, Cannonade.
Cannonade was a homebred for John M. Olin. The bay colt by Bold Bidder had captured Churchill Down’s premier race for 2-year-olds, the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, but little else.
Stephens also had Cannonade’s stablemate, Judger, who was the highly regarded 3-5 favorite. Owned by Seth Hancock and sired by Damascus, the handsome bay colt had won the Florida Derby and the Bluegrass Stakes. Stephens also had two of the best jockeys riding the coupled entry. Angel Cordero, Jr. was in the irons on Cannonade and Laffit Pincay, Jr. had the mount on Judger.
As the cavalry charge began, the 3-year-olds faced numerous traffic jams and were bumped around. Both Cannonade and Judger got roughed up starts but Cannonade, after trailing by more than 12 lengths after the opening quarter mile, began passing horses after moving to the rail in the far turn. He reached the quarter pole two lengths in front of Destroyer, who had won the Santa Anita Derby. As Cordero urged Cannonade on, he moved up to lead by 4 lengths at the eighth pole. Olin’s bay colt charged on and won by 2 ¼ lengths. Cannonade’s final time was 2:04 which was the slowest time on a fast track since Ponder in 1945, lending some credence to the Louisville Time’s headline. Judger, after a terrible trip, finished 8th.
Next, came the Preakness and Belmont. Cannonade finished a respectable third in each of the classic races. He did his best running at Churchill Downs. The Kentucky Derby would be his final victory. In a 25-race career, he won 7 races.
Cannonade gave future Hall of Famers, Woody Stephens and Angel Cordero, Jr. their first Kentucky Derby win. Stephens would go on to win several more classics, including 5 Belmont’s in a row, which is a record.