Real Quiet a real bargain at $17,000

Sunday, May 3, 1998

BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

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Trainer Bob Baffert strikes a quarterback's pose with the trophy.
(AP photo)
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LOUISVILLE -- Real Quiet is the stealth racehorse. Light on the noise. Lighter on his feet.

He slipped beneath the radar at Churchill Downs, and promptly blended into the background of the Kentucky Derby picture. If he was not technically a horse with no name, he was he next thing to anonymous.

Indian Charlie was the undisputed star of Bob Baffert's stable, undefeated and elegant, beautiful to behold, popular to bet.

Real Quiet was strictly sidekick material, along for the laughs. He is a $17,000 flyer in a sport where fortunes are spent on breeding, a slender steed known as "The Fish" because he is so pretty in profile, and so narrow in width.

He entered Saturday's race with the poorest pedigree in the starting gate, only to finish it with a garland of roses draped over his neck. Real Quiet had blown his cover in the loudest race in the world.

"Every year, we go back and look at the stock, kick some tires, and think one of them will get (to the Derby)," Baffert said. "It's coincidence and luck. If you buy enough of them, one of them will be a big horse."

Among the Derby's enduring charms is that it is often difficult to identify the biggest horse in advance. Indian Charlie went off at 2.7-to-1 Saturday afternoon. The odds on Real Quiet were 8.4-to-1. Real Quiet's coming-out party marked the third time in four years that the Run for the Roses had been won by a wallflower, a comparatively obscure horse in a celebrated stable.

In 1995, trainer D. Wayne Lukas was the Derby's post-time favorite with his entry of Timber Ridge and Serena's Song, but reached the winner's circle with Thunder Gulch, a 24-to-1 shot. A year later, Lukas won with Grindstone, when Editor's Note was his more celebrated candidate.

In a cavalry charge like the Derby, there's a lot to be said for strength in numbers. It is the first test for 3-year-olds at a mile and a quarter, a distance neither dosage indexes nor past performances can entirely project. No matter how close a man might get to a horse, it's mighty hard to know just what's inside.

"When I bought the horse, I liked him," Baffert said. "But I saw him from far away. I said, "This horse has a great body, but boy he's got a funky front end."

When Baffert won the bidding on behalf of Mike Pegram, he was immediately struck by buyer's remorse. He had hoped the price would go a little higher -- closer to $30,000 -- to help justify his confidence in the colt.

Later, when Baffert told Pegram the price of the horse he had just purchased, the owner's first reaction was to laugh.

"Does he have cancer?" Pegram asked.

Pegram was still laughing Saturday, all the way to the bank. "If this ain't a movie!" he exclaimed.

Specifically, this was a sequel. No favorite has won the Derby since 1979. Six of the last nine winners have left the gate at odds of at least 8-to-1. On the first Saturday of May, the exception is now the rule.

"I slid him to the outside of Indian Charlie, and all by himself he started progressing and moving forward," said Kent Desormeaux, the winning jockey. "He tried to jump on the bridle when I moved him to the outside, but he turned right back off as soon as I set the bridle back in his mouth and he got into a canter again. Turning for home, I asked him for his life and he gave it to me."

Speed to win

Baffert had warned Gary Stevens, Indian Charlie's rider, that Real Quiet was the only horse capable of running past him. But running for the wire, holding off the charge of Victory Gallop, Baffert saw a horse more potent than he had suspected.

"It was like he was on Viagra," Baffert said.

The victory was Baffert's second straight in the Derby. Pegram, who promises to make mint juleups available at his McDonald's franchises, won the race on his first try.

"There's a lot of beer to drink tonight," he declared.

Real Quiet was good reason to get loud.

Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your e-mail. Message him at tsullivanenquirer.com.

SULLIVAN ARCHIVE