Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 34 Days to Go!!

Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 34 Days to Go!!

Spend A Buck was a pretty looking bay that was bred by Rowe Harper at his Irish Hill Farm near Owensboro, Kentucky. By Buckaroo and out of the Speak John mare, Belle De Jour, the yearling colt was turned out in a field with the rest of the youngsters, when Dennis Diaz came to see the stock Harper had for sale. Catching new owner Diaz’s eye, the bay would be purchased in a private transaction for $12,500. Diaz would also buy his dam, having her shipped to his Florida Hunter Farm. Diaz had plans to turn around and sell the colt for a profit, however when the vet came to the farm, he turned him down for the sale. Diaz was upset at the time, nonetheless he would eventually turn the horse over to Cam Gambolati to train.

Gambolati had only recently become a head trainer, taking on Dennis and Linda Diaz as his first clients. Spend A Buck would be the first stakes winner for both, and the first stakes winner for his sire, Buckaroo, who was by Buckpasser. The speedy colt got his name from his owner’s belief that “you have to spend a buck to earn a buck”; in addition to his thinking that the name would appeal to the $2 bettor.

As a 2YO, Spend A Buck would compile a record of 5-2-1 from eight starts. After winning his maiden and an allowance, he would finish second in the Criterium to another speedster, Smile. Following a 9½ length victory in another allowance, the connections then shipped the bay to River Downs for the Cradle, where he crushed the competition by fifteen lengths and set a new track record. He marked himself as a horse to watch when he won the Arlington-Washington Futurity by a half-length, again setting a new track record in the process. The Hunter Farm color-bearer finished second by ¾ in the Young America Stakes prior to wrapping up his freshman season with a third behind the brilliant Chief’s Crown and Tanks Prospect in the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

In the wake of the Juvenile, it was discovered that the colt had knee chips that were plaguing him, resulting in arthroscopic surgery to have them removed. The surgery put a damper in the Florida campaign that was mapped out for the colt, yet it would be the start of a controversial Derby run. Instead of taking the Florida path to the Derby, Spend A Buck’s team elected to take the New York/New Jersey route. Making his sophomore appearance in the Bay Shore at Aqueduct in late March, he would finish third, his worst showing of the year. Shipping to New Jersey’s Garden State race track, the relentless colt would score in the Cherry Hill by 10½ lengths, setting a new track record for the mile before a start in the nine furlong Garden State. Carrying 122 pounds as the high weight, Spend A Buck set another track record in his 9½ length victory, covering the distance in 1:45 4/5, just 2/5 off of Secretariat’s World Record that was set in the Marlboro Cup, marking himself as a true Derby contender.

Coming into the Derby, the colt was mainly overlooked due to all of the other talented horses that had taken the conventional trek to the race. Even though he was considered a speed specialist, his stature was put into question with presence of the better known sprinter Eternal Prince. The press coverage was going to the Lukas-trained Tanks Prospect and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Champion, Chief’s Crown. 1985 was an important year for Churchill Downs. The admission prices for Oaks and Derby were doubled to help offset the cost of the new turf track that was implemented, in large part to attract the newly formed Breeders’ Cup Championship races. In addition to the turf track, it was also the year that the Kentucky Derby Museum was opened.

In the 111th Kentucky Derby, Spend A Buck inherited an early lead, mainly because the speed horse in the race, Eternal Prince, didn’t like the crowd and didn’t run the race everyone thought he would. Early on, Spend A Buck would jump a path in the track, resembling a buck, on his way to setting a moderate first quarter. From there, Spend A Buck and jockey Angel Cordero, Jr. attacked the race, running the fastest mile in Derby history to this day, 1:34 4/5. The duo continued their acceleration, drawing away to a 5¼ length triumph, the largest since Assault’s 1946 8-length victory. Easing up towards the end, they still ran the mile and a quarter in the third fastest Derby time, 2:00 1/5, behind Secretariat and Northern Dancer. The rags-to-riches colt’s owner, Diaz, then made the controversial decision to skip the Preakness, Belmont, and a chance at the Triple Crown. Instead he sent Spend A Buck after a $2 million bonus. He had won two Kentucky Derby preps at Garden State Park in New Jersey, where the track had put up a bonus for a horse that could win those two preps, the Kentucky Derby, as well as their Jersey Derby. Diaz decided to go for the bonus, with Spend A Buck winning the Jersey Derby by a neck, along with the extra $2 million. The decision to step away from the coveted crown for bigger purse money was in part what prompted the Triple Crown bonus, a $5 million bonus for any horse that could conquer the three races. The bonus was never won, having no longer been offered with American Pharoah’s laurels.

Spend A Buck would earn the Eclipse for 3YO Champion Male and Horse of the Year in 1985. He was a sire of 27 stakes winners, starting his career at Lane’s End Farm after being syndicated for $15 million. In 2001, the stallion was purchased by Antonio Lemgruber to stand in Brazil, where in 2002 he passed from an anaphylactic reaction to penicillin. He retired with 10 wins from 15 starts and earnings of $4,220,689.

(Photo courtesy of KDM archives)

Rickelle  Nelson

Rickelle Nelson

Reservations Manager for the Kentucky Derby Museum