LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — This was no time for Pat Day to be patient.
It paid off for a lifetime.
Known for being a strategic jockey, Day was aboard 16-to-1 longshot Lil E. Tee when the horse broke well from the gate and held his ground in the pack until he found a hole.
The horse rallied from 10th to stalk overwhelming favorite Arazi late and then pass Casual Lies to win the 1992 Kentucky Derby in 2:03.04. Day jumped off and gave praise, throwing his hands to the sky in triumph.
That pose would eventually be immortalized in bronze in the paddock at Churchill Downs. Day, a Hall of Famer, relives how it felt to get his signature victory every time he visits.
Tuesday marks 25 years since Day rode from the No. 10 post position to an upset victory at Churchill Downs. That 1992 win in his 10th attempt turned out to be Day’s only triumph in the Run for the Roses.
“With Arazi, I thought the race was for second place,” Day, 63, said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. “Arazi opened up a four, five-length lead, but I started to think maybe I could run for second place.
“That’s when I put Lil E. Tee to the test and he responded and blew past Arazi and Casual Lies. To say the least, it was satisfying.”
His presence looms large at the track where he earned a record 2,481 of his 8,803 career victories, a total that includes five Preakness and three Belmont wins. The third annual Grade 3 Pat Day Mile will be run on Saturday in the run-up to the 143rd Derby.
The silver anniversary of what Day calls his most significant achievement holds extra meaning because the colt’s trainer, Lynn S. Whiting, died at 77 on April 19 following a struggle with cancer and a stroke.
Day and Whiting celebrated the 20th anniversary of Lil E. Tee’s victory and the jockey said they had looked forward to another joyous observation this week. The jockey paused while sorting through mixed emotions of recognizing the milestone without Whiting. He then recalled the glee he felt when he and his friend got to smell the roses together.
“He was just an astute horseman,” Day said of Whiting, whom he began working with on Lil E. Tee as a 2-year-old.
“And all things being equal, you knew he’d get the best out of a horse. I had confidence in him and he had it in me.”
Then, as now, the four-time Eclipse Award winner credited his faith in God for overcoming drug and alcohol abuse and enduring setbacks such as several competitive Derby finishes before and after his lone breakthrough.
“I was where God had me to be and doing what he had me to do,” Day said. “Whether I won or didn’t win, Hallelujah! But I sure went to the wire with that feeling that I wanted to win.”
Day had four seconds and two thirds in the Derby, begging the question of how many more times he could have won. Rather than wonder what if those other times, the jockey sometimes referred to as “Patient Pat” is thankful for having multiple opportunities to win the sport’s marquee race.
And Day’s mastery of Churchill Downs stoked confidence that his spot in the winner’s circle at the Derby was just a matter of time and opportunity. Lil E. Tee delivered with a performance that quickly and perfectly fell into place.
“It just goes to show that even the great jockeys don’t get that many chances to win the Derby,” said fellow Hall of Famer Steve Cauthen, who rode Affirmed to the Triple Crown in 1978. “It was great for him to win the Derby and win it for Lynn Whiting.”
Jubilant as he was, Day stresses that he would’ve been fine without that win. Fortunately for him, he never has to wonder otherwise.