04/23/2004 12:00AM

Overlooked but undervalued Derby winners

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History records that Aristides, winner of the inaugural Kentucky Derby on May 17, 1875, was the post-time favorite, but his victory stunned his owner and most of the estimated 10,000 on hand.

Aristides rewarded those who backed him with odds of roughly 2-1 in the popular auction pools and the newly introduced Paris Mutuels (later shortened to parimutuels).

Flamboyant gambler, owner, and breeder H. Price McGrath, owner of Aristides, also had Chesapeake in the first Derby. The two were coupled for wagering purposes.

Three days before the Derby, Chesapeake captured the two-mile Citizens' Stakes at the Association track in Lexington. Aristides, on the other hand, had finished last in his final Derby prep, the Phoenix Hotel Stakes, at the same track four days earlier.

McGrath entered his speedball Aristides in the Derby to ensure a fast pace for the favored Chesapeake, who liked to stay far back in the early going.

The rabbit did his part, but when Chesapeake failed to fire, Aristides surprised everyone by continuing on to score by two lengths.

Test your knowledge of other runnings of the Kentucky Derby where mutuel couplings cheated some bettors out of higher odds.

1. The record high for a $2 win payoff on the Kentucky Derby belongs to Donerail, whose jockey, Roscoe Goose, brought him from behind to capture the classic in 1913 at 91-1.

But another Derby winner was arguably the biggest upset winner. Because he was a member of the mutuel field, however, he rewarded those brave enough to back him with a mere $19.40 to win.

Name him.

2. The year 1974 marked a milestone for Churchill Downs. A crowd of 163,628 - the largest ever for a horse race in North American history - was on hand for the 100th Kentucky Derby.

And as with the first Derby a century earlier, the "wrong half of the entry" saved those betting on the favorite.

Cannonade, ridden by Angel Cordero Jr., won the race ridden out and returned $5 to those backing the Woody Stephens-trained entry. Cannonade's favored stablemate was never in contention.

Name the horse who was favored to win the centennial Kentucky Derby.

3. In the fall of 1918, Matt Winn, general manager of Laurel Racecourse, arranged a match race between the country's two most talked-about 2-year-olds - Billy Kelly and Eternal.

The race took place on Oct. 28, with Eternal prevailing by a short head. The two horses would share the honors as the year's best juvenile and were co-favorites in the Kentucky Derby future book the following winter.

On Derby Day in 1919, Eternal was made a slight favorite over Billy Kelly. Each was coupled with a stablemate - one who was destined to wear the roses that day.

Name him.

4. Coventry won the Preakness in 1925 (in the era where it was run one week before the Kentucky Derby), but Gifford A. Cochran, his owner, had failed to nominate the colt to the Derby.

Cochran wanted to be represented in Louisville, but his only Derby nominee was an unheralded colt who had never gone beyond six furlongs.

The horse had no problem with the 1 1/4 miles of the Derby, winning easily. The mutuel payoff was only $8.30 to win.

Name him.

5. Jack Amiel, owner of the Turf Restaurant on Broadway in New York City, thought his 3-year-old had a good chance to win the Kentucky Derby.

He was about the only one who did. His trainer, Sol Rutchick, thought Amiel was crazy and refused to travel to Louisville with the horse. Rutchick would later deny it, saying he missed his plane from New York.

With only one sprint win at age 3 and a fifth-place finish in the Wood Memorial, this horse was entered along with 19 other horses in the Derby.

He came from far back to win going away. Name him.

History Answers

1. On April 4, 1971, Agua Caliente Racetrack in Tijuana, Mexico, issued a revised brochure listing the current odds for its then-popular future book on the Kentucky Derby. Canonero II was listed at 500-1 to win; 200-1 to place; 100-1 to show; and 50-1 to run fourth or better.

Six days later, Canonero II ran third in his final Derby prep, a $3,500 race in Venezuela. The bay colt then had an eventful trip by cargo plane to Miami, followed by four days in quarantine.

Those who saw him when he finally arrived at Churchill Downs said he looked thin, listless, and exhausted.

Twenty horses entered the 97th Kentucky Derby. With only three ownership entries, six horses - including Canonero II - were lumped in the mutuel field, all covered by No. 12.

Canonero II won the Derby by nearly four lengths. The mutuel field went off at 8-1. The other five members of the field finished 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th.

2. Cannonade had captured the Stepping Stone Purse on opening day of the 1974 Churchill Downs meeting, one week before the Derby, but it was his first win of the year. Most in the record crowd felt his stablemate Judger was the better half of the entry.

Judger had captured the Florida Derby and Blue Grass Stakes, and the distance of the Derby looked to be right up his alley.

Before the race, trainer Woody Stephens told reporters that Judger, a son of Damascus, was bigger, more relaxed, and more advanced in his training than Cannonade.

While Cannonade returned only $5 to his backers at Churchill Downs, he paid $18.80 to his supporters at OTB parlors in New York City (where all horses were separate betting interests).

Twenty-three horses started in the 100th Kentucky Derby, a record likely never to be broken. Conditions of the Derby today limit the field to 20.

3. Billy Kelly, who won 14 of 17 starts at age 2, was coupled in the wagering in the 1919 Kentucky Derby with Sir Barton, who not only was still a maiden on Derby Day, but he was also making his first start as a 3-year-old. Even owner John K.L. Ross, known to be a heavy gambler, admitted that he passed on Sir Barton when the colt was 100-1 in the Derby future books.

Sir Barton won the 45th Derby eased up by five lengths, returning $7.20 to his backers. Billy Kelly finished second, while favored Eternal (coupled with Sailor) at 2-1 faded to 10th.

Sir Barton went on to become the first horse to win the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes.

4. In 1925, Flying Ebony became the first horse from the mutuel field to win the Kentucky Derby. With 20 horses starting, seven were coupled in the field, which went off at 3-1.

Earl Sande, the best rider of the 1920's and one of the great riders of all time, wound up without a mount on Derby Day in 1925. Unable to secure a ride on any of the favorites, he reluctantly agreed to ride the virtually unknown Flying Ebony.

The black colt by The Finn won in hand and became the record fifth Kentucky Derby winner bred by John E. Madden.

5. Count Turf was a member of the five-horse mutuel field when he captured the 77th Kentucky Derby in 1951. The field paid $31.20 to win.

The bay colt was ridden by Conn McCreary, who, despite having won the 1944 Derby with Pensive, had fallen on hard times. McCreary had only won four races during the first four months of 1951.

In 1967, owner Jack Amiel told Turf & Sport Digest writer Herb Goldstein that Hall of Fame jockey Eddie Arcaro insulted him the night before the Derby in 1951 when he told him his colt "just isn't the kind of horse you bring to the Kentucky Derby."

Amiel bet heavily on Count Turf in the Derby and always grumbled that he could have gotten so much more if the horse had not been lumped in the mutuel field.