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Exercise rider Derek Sturniolo works out Kentucky Derby hopeful Nobiz Like Shobize in soggy conditions at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., on Thursday. The escort is unidentified. The 133rd running of the Derby is Saturday.
AP photo by Ed Reinke
Exercise rider Derek Sturniolo works out Kentucky Derby hopeful Nobiz Like Shobize in soggy conditions at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., on Thursday. The escort is unidentified. The 133rd running of the Derby is Saturday.

The wild
1957 Derby

Shoemaker's backstretch
gaffe sent roses to Iron Liege

By Beth Harris
Associated Press Writer

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The Kentucky Derby begins with 20 horses stampeding three-eighths of a mile before squeezing through the first turn. No matter how crazy Saturday's race starts, there's little chance the finish will be as wild as it was 50 years ago.

"I don't think there was ever that good a race," 94-year-old trainer John Nerud recalled Thursday. "I've never seen that in my lifetime."

The 1957 Kentucky Derby is remembered as horse racing's version of baseball's "Shot Heard 'Round the World," the dramatics triggered by the late Bill Shoemaker, considered the sport's greatest jockey.

He was aboard Gallant Man and gaining on rival Bill Hartack and Iron Liege as the two horses dueled down the stretch.

Upstairs in a clubhouse box, Nerud slapped owner Ralph Lowe on the back and said, "Go down to the winner's circle and get your roses and take them back to Texas."

Then, something incredible happened.

As the horses passed the 16th pole, Shoemaker inexplicably stood up in the irons on Gallant Man, misjudging the finish line. It happened so quickly, hardly anyone noticed at first. In a flash, Shoemaker bounced back into the saddle and began riding hard again.

But Gallant Man couldn’t overhaul Hartack and Iron Liege, who won by a nose.

“I never figured out why he pulled up. He was one of the greatest riders ever,” Nerud said from his home in Long Island, N.Y. “I didn’t know what happened at the time until it was over.”

Come Saturday, he’ll be watching the 133rd Derby and cheering on Street Sense, trained by 65-year-old Carl Nafzger.

“Carl is one of my proteges,” Nerud said. “Every one of them is my friend, but Carl, I kind of put him on the right track. I gave him some horses that could run about 25 years ago.”

Nafzger won the 1990 Derby with Unbridled and credits Nerud for much of his success. Besides sending him good horses, Nafzger said Nerud gave him the confidence to stick to his own training theories and helped even more by keeping demanding owners off his back.

“He taught me so much,” Nafzger said. “You can never fail, you can only learn. That’s the way I live.”

Street Sense is the early 4-1 second choice in a full field of 3-year-olds entered for Saturday’s race. Curlin, the 7-2 favorite, is unbeaten in three starts, but with a 50 percent chance of thunderstorms forecast, things could get interesting. Street Sense finished third in his only race on a sloppy track; Curlin has never raced in mud.

The Churchill Downs track was rated “fast” on May 4, 1957. The night before, Lowe told Shoemaker that he dreamed a jockey on one of his horses misjudged the finish line and lost the race.

“Not me,” Shoemaker replied.

But the next day, race day, he did just that.

“I knew,” Shoemaker would write in his 1988 biography, “I had made a big boo-boo.”

The blunder earned him a 15-day suspension, not just because Shoemaker pulled up the horse but, according to Nerud, because he lied about it afterward. Shoemaker originally claimed the horse took a bad step, but relented after being confronted by the stewards. The strange thing is he wasn’t even supposed to be aboard Gallant Man in the Derby.

Nerud insisted that John Choquette should ride the horse, at one point telling Lowe, “You want another jockey, you can get another trainer, too.”

“The finish line at Churchill Downs was a sixteenth of a mile farther toward the first turn than it was at other tracks in the country,” Shoemaker wrote. “And I hadn’t had a ride over a track like that in a year. The year before, my Derby horse had been Terrang and he finished 12th.

The 133rd Kentucky Derby

When: Saturday, 5:04 p.m.

Television: WAFF-48

Where: Churchill Downs, Louisville, Ky.

Distance: 11/4 miles.

Total purse: $2.21 million.

Winner's share: $1,450,000.

Weather forecast: Temperatures in the upper 70s with a 30 percent chance of showers.

- The Associated Press

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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