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Sunday Silence Captures Derby

Ron Indrisano, Boston Globe
May 7, 1989

Charlie Whittingham was right.

Sunday Silence and rider Pat Valenzuela made the 76-year-old trainer look like a prophet as he captured the 115th running of the Kentucky Derby by 2 1/2 lengths over the odds-on favorite Easy Goer with Awe Inspiring, Easy Goer’s stablemate, a head farther back in third.

All week the trainer of Sunday Silence insisted his West Coast champion deserved equal billing with Easy Goer, the East Coast champion who has been billed as a superhorse. Now Sunday Silence gets top billing.

The gods smiled on Whittingham. Sunday Silence needed a muddy track and a bad trip for Easy Goer and Pat Day to turn the tables and he got both. The Churchill Downs strip was muddy for the first time since Tim Tam won in 1958 and the final running time of 2:05 was identical to Tim Tam’s.

Sunday Silence, a son of Halo, relishes mud; Easy Goer does not. Mud was the main reason Easy Goer lost the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last year.

Also, as predicted, equine stiffs who did not belong in the Derby got in the way in the 15-horse field.

Northern Wolf, the only horse left in the auxiliary gate after Notation was scratched and Wind Splitter moved into the main gate, came over and tightened up Easy Goer in the front stretch costing Easy Goer his action.

Easy Goer recovered from the Wolf attack and stalked Sunday Silence from the outside but Day lost contact with Valenzuela around the far turn. After that, Easy Goer was all out and under a heavy whip to drive up between horses from sixth place at the eight-pole and get the place over his entrymate and Craig Perret.

Sunday Silence, a 3-1 second choice, paid $8.20, $3.00 and $3.60. Easy Goer and Awe Inspiring, at 4-5, returned $2.60 and $3.40 to show. The show price was a blow to the win bettors who would have received only 20 cents more at $3.60. The exacta was worth $15.20. Churchill Downs does not have trifectas.

Houston, as expected, put on a show of speed past the grandstand the first time but he collapsed under Laffit Pincay after a mile, winding up eighth at 5-1. For the record, the fractions Houston set were :23, :46 2/5, 1:11 2/5 and 1:37 4/5. After trainer D. Wayne Lukas’ horse gave up, the only horses who mattered were Sunday Silence and the entry trained by Shug McGaughey. And Sunday Silence, who ran through the stretch like a drunk walking over a rope bridge, was just too good in the mud.

“He’s a good horse, he trained good and I thought his record was just as good as Easy Goer’s,” said Whittingham. “He won the Santa Anita Derby easy and they were a tougher bunch of horses than they have in the East.

“The race came up perfect for us. It couldn’t have been better. The track was off and he doesn’t mind an off track. It turned out the way we thought it would and I want to thank everybody.”

Whittingham, who is considered the greatest trainer ever to race on the West Coast, won his first Derby in 1986 with Ferdinand. “This one is more exciting than the first one,” he said.

Valenzuela explained Sunday Silence’s erratic path.

“He shied from the crowd,” said Valenzuela. “I hit him righthanded and he began luggin in. This is the biggest crowd that there is in racing (yesterday’s attendence was 122,653, held down by a record low Derby temperature of 44 degrees). If it wasn’t for the big crowd he would have really finished and he would have won by more.”