Chasing a Kentucky Derby dream

May, 5, 2012
05/05/12
10:09
AM ET
I can't help but get a little nostalgic on Kentucky Derby day. I have lots of great memories in this sport. One of them, certainly, is riding in the Kentucky Derby for the first time.

It was 1994, and I was 22 years old. I was riding a horse called Southern Rhythm. I thought the horse had a really good chance. He'd won the Lexington Stakes pretty well two weeks earlier, and I thought he might be peaking at the right time. Unfortunately, we finished seventh, beaten by 10½ lengths. It was a respectable run behind a very good winner, Go For Gin. But it was still disappointing.

That said, the experience was absolutely incredible. I'll never forget that first call to the post, seeing the crowd, and hearing "My Old Kentucky Home." Being a part of it, for the first time, was just so special. It's as awesome of a feeling as you can get in this sport.

A couple of my fellow jockeys in this year's race, Mario Gutierrez and Sheldon Russell, are fortunate enough to be in that position -- as Derby rookies. The thing that I'd tell them, above all, is to treasure the experience.

I've gone on to ride in seven more, and they've been equally as special. But I'm dying to win one. I came closest in 2009, finishing second with Pioneerof the Nile. I really think I have a great shot today with Daddy Nose Best. I think the race dynamics play out pretty well for us, with all the speed lined up in here. The horse's closing kick in the Sunland Derby was really strong. Obviously, it's a great asset to have that kind of powerful turn of foot in the stretch.

Derby day is so different from any other -- if only because of how long it is. First post is at 10:30 a.m. ET, and the Derby isn't until 6:24 p.m. In between, it's pretty hectic. There are lots of demands on your time -- whether it's media looking for interviews, or fans looking for autographs. But you've just got to maintain your focus. Once I get a leg up from Steve Asmussen around 6:15 tonight, all that peripheral stuff goes out the window. It's all about me and Daddy Nose Best.

Winning the Kentucky Derby has become my career quest. I turned 40 on New Year's Day. Who "nose" how many more chances I'll have?

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