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Original Issue

Talking Horses

With an eye on this Saturday's Kentucky Derby, race veterans recall past Runs for the Roses

"AT MY FIRST Kentucky Derby, in 1985," says jockey Gary Stevens(left), who is set to ride Noble Causeway on Saturday,"I walked out of the jocks' room and [Hall of Famer] Bill Shoemaker said, 'Get prepared. When you take that first step on the racetrack and they start playing My Old Kentucky Home, you're going to get tears in your eyes.' He said, 'It's happened to me every time I've ridden in the Derby.' And sure enough. It happens to me every year." ... Trainer John Servis, whose Smarty Jones (center) won last year: "He had the blanket of roses over his neck. His head was hanging a bit, his ears were pricked up, and he had mud all over his face. It made him look mortal, and I thought he was almost immortal. You could see he gave it all, and he was tired. It made him look so humble." ... Owner Arthur Hancock III, who had winner Gato Del Sol in '82: "The most intense moment of my life. When we were all standing in the winner's circle, I felt I was actually up in the air, looking down on the whole thing: my wife, Stacy; my mother. Oh, hell [voice cracking], I get choked up thinking about it. It's the most profound euphoria I've ever felt." ... Trainer Bob Baffert (left), whose Sort It Out is to run this year: "I'm not superstitious, but I have this thing with black cats. When I was walking Point Given from the barn to the track [in 2001], a black cat bolted in front of us. I froze. We were the favorite and finished fifth." ... Trainer John Ward Jr., whose Monarchos won in 2001: "My wife was outside the Derby Museum after the trophy presentation, and some guy walked up with a giant nipple on his head, like a hat. He asked her how everything went. She said we had a great day and won the race. He said, 'Oh, really? That's nice.' Then went on his way." ... Jockey Steve Cauthen (right),who at age 18 rode Affirmed in the '78 Derby: "I don't think my dad [Tex] realized how hard it was to get a room. We ended up in one room at the Executive Inn. It had two beds and there were five of us, so someone had to sleep on the floor. The night before the Derby, I did it. I didn't want to be bothered by anybody. I slept like a log." ... Race caller Tom Durkin: "In 1972, when I was at St. Norbert College, I wrote to Lynn Stone, then president of Churchill Downs, telling him that the life's dream of one of the priests at school was to go to the Kentucky Derby. To my surprise, Mr. Stone sent me four tickets. Then I had to find a priest! I did, and along with two of my friends, we drove to Louisville and stayed in a convent. Here we were, three college guys and a priest, and the only entertainment then was topless bars. We were a little subdued." ... Trainer Jenine Sahadi, who was wired for sound by TV stations the week before the race in 2000: "One morning, the horse was back from a workout, and I had to go to the ladies' room. I sat down, and I realized all the mikes were running. I had to get back up and pull all the mikes off. I was relieved that I didn't pee for the entire world." ... Stevens, again: "In the 12-minute warmup time you can assess if your horse has a good chance or not by how he handles the 120,000 screaming people, most of 'em drunk. Sometimes your horse is agitated and his mind is not focused on the race; he's thinking more about the crowd than he is about the battle that he's about to be in. Sometimes, though, you just know your horse is in the right state of mind."