Kentucky Derby

John Clay: Kent Desormeaux hasn't lost support despite episodes

Jockey Kent Desormeaux, left, and fellow Hall of Famer Pat Day talked at Churchill Downs on Saturday. Desormeaux, who has ridden three Kentucky Derby winners, will be aboard Dullahan in this year's Derby.
Jockey Kent Desormeaux, left, and fellow Hall of Famer Pat Day talked at Churchill Downs on Saturday. Desormeaux, who has ridden three Kentucky Derby winners, will be aboard Dullahan in this year's Derby. Herald-Leader

LOUISVILLE — Saturday morning, backstretch at Churchill Downs, Kent Desormeaux is hanging with his support group.

Having just finished his final work in preparation for the Kentucky Derby, Dullahan is getting a bath.

Trainer Dale Romans tells the media it was just what the horse needed. Jerry Crawford, head of the Donegal ownership group, agrees. Desormeaux, who watched the work with Romans, smiles.

"We're Triple D," the 42-year-old jockey told a couple of interviewers. "Desormeaux, Donegal and Dale."

Winner of Keeneland's Toyota Blue Grass Stakes two weeks back, Dullahan is one of the probable favorites for Derby 138.

"There seems to be some karma here," said Desormeaux of the connections' close ties.

Karma, and loyalty.

Not everyone would have stuck with the controversial rider, whose three Kentucky Derby wins have been overshadowed by a series of episodes and incidents that caused some to question the Hall of Fame rider.

"I think I understand Kent," said Romans on Saturday. "I don't think some people understand him."

Some didn't understand why he eased Big Brown in the 2008 Belmont when the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner was going for the Triple Crown.

Some didn't understand in 2010 when Desormeaux let up on the Donegal-owned and Romans-trained Paddy O'Prado in the stretch of the Kentucky Derby, a tactic that allowed Ice Box to pass Paddy for second.

Some didn't understand a month later when Desormeaux failed a breathalyzer test at Woodbine after flying in from New York to ride WinStar's Hold Me Back in the Dominion Day Handicap. Desormeaux was suspended for the day.

Hold Me Back won the $216,000 race with a substitute rider. First, Desormeaux said he had one drink at a birthday party the night before. Later, he admitted to a drinking problem and sought help.

And many didn't understand when last August at Saratoga, Desormeaux was arrested after striking a peace officer with his car. Desormeaux explained he was trying to "be cute." He pleaded guilty to a disorderly conduct charge.

Still, the two Ds didn't abandon the third.

"I think many very talented people lead lives with ups and downs. Kent has had some, so have I," said Jerry Crawford, the Iowa attorney who heads up the Donegal syndicate.

"I'm actually pretty familiar with some of the things that have caused controversy and some of them, frankly, were not his fault. It was what it was. I just stayed in touch with Kent very closely and made sure he knew he was still our guy."

Why is he their guy?

"I think Kent is one of, if not the best, rider in the country in a big race," said Romans, who has used Desormeaux on his horses since 2006. "I've never had him give me a bad ride in a big race. ... He's won this race three times. Very few riders have done that. I still think he's as good as he ever was."

Desormeaux won the 1998 Kentucky Derby aboard Real Quiet. He won the 2000 Derby aboard Fusiachi Pegasus. He won in 2008 atop Big Brown.

For his part, Desormeaux doesn't want to rehash the past. He's focused on the future — his chances at Derby win No. 4.

A half-brother to Mine That Bird, Dullahan broke poorly in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill last November — "He only got beat 4, 5 lengths," said Desormeaux on Saturday. "He got left 10" — and wound up fourth, behind winner Hansen.

He exacted revenge in the Blue Grass, becoming the first horse since Round Table in 1956 and 1957 to win Keeneland's biggest race for 2-year-olds (The Dixiana Futurity) and 3-year-olds (The Blue Grass).

Both of those races were on Keeneland's Polytrack, but Desormeaux isn't worried about Churchill's dirt.

"He lives here," said Desormeaux, alluding to the horse's home base at Churchill. "They've got to come beat him in his backyard."

And, "He's got a full tank."

Just as he has the full support of the Double Ds.

"I've chaired seven presidential campaigns," Crawford said. "So I'm pretty used to the notion that sometimes people say things that aren't necessarily true."

"I love having him on my horse," Romans said. "And if I have a horse next year, I hope he's on it, too."

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